Press Releases

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner joined Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Hoeven (R-ND) in writing a letter to Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, to urge the Administration to ensure the continuity of our country’s food supply and to support rural areas during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic by providing needed relief to farmers. Klobuchar and Hoeven were joined on the letter by Senators Tina Smith (D-MN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), and 38 bipartisan colleagues.

“We write to ask that you take action to ensure the continuity of our country’s food supply and support rural areas during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic by providing needed relief to farmers—including by ensuring that the temporary flexibilities on farm loans recently announced by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) are made permanent for the duration of the pandemic and subsequent economic recovery, and also by ensuring adequate and equitable access to credit during this period of market uncertainty,” the senators wrote.

“Americans always depend on our nation’s farmers to grow the food, fuel, and fiber that we all need, but that reliance becomes much more pronounced in times of crisis,” the senators continued.

“To provide additional support for those whose operations are being affected by the coronavirus, we urge you to consider making emergency measures such as deadline extensions, loan payment deferrals, payment forbearance, and a full suspension of all current and pending foreclosure actions effective for the duration of the pandemic and subsequent economic recovery.”

“Such measures are critical to avoiding disruption in the country’s food supply chain.”

In addition to Klobuchar, Hoeven, Smith, and Cramer, the letter was signed by Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), John Thune (R-SD), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Steve Daines (R-MT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), John Barrasso (R-WY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Mike Enzi (R-WY), John Boozman (R-AR), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Angus King (I-ME), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Todd Young (R-IN), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Doug Jones (D-AL), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Tom Carper (D-DE), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Gary Peters (D-MI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jon Tester (D-MT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Martha McSally (R-AZ), Josh Hawley (R-MO), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).

Full text of the letter can be found HERE and below: 

Dear Secretary Perdue:

We write to ask that you take action to ensure the continuity of our country’s food supply and support rural areas during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic by providing needed relief to farmers—including by ensuring that the temporary flexibilities on farm loans recently announced by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) are made permanent for the duration of the pandemic and subsequent economic recovery, and also by ensuring adequate and equitable access to credit during this period of market uncertainty.

As you know, farmers across the country have faced many challenges in the past several years. The coronavirus pandemic is now causing additional disruptions, driving further declines in market conditions, prices, and export demand, and some experts believe that the consequences of the pandemic could hit rural communities particularly hard. In the past week alone, cattle producers have seen excessive price losses and corn growers have seen biofuel producers suspend purchases due to weaker fuel demand. These conditions have created cash flow challenges as spring planting season quickly approaches. 

Americans always depend on our nation’s farmers to grow the food, fuel, and fiber that we all need, but that reliance becomes much more pronounced in times of crisis. We appreciate the Department’s recognition of the challenges facing farmers and the announcement made by FSA on March 26, 2020, to provide flexibility for those repaying farm loans. These actions will help alleviate cash flow concerns as producers make important business decisions for their operations. We respectfully ask that you provide us with additional information as to how the Department plans to communicate these flexibilities to producers, the criteria that the Department will consider when determining whether a producer receives temporary payment deferral or forbearance, and how long these extensions will be in effect for producers responding to loan servicing actions.

To provide additional support for those whose operations are being affected by the coronavirus, we urge you to consider making emergency measures such as deadline extensions, loan payment deferrals, payment forbearance, and a full suspension of all current and pending foreclosure actions effective for the duration of the pandemic and subsequent economic recovery. The Department should also consider taking additional emergency actions – including the authorization of loan restructuring and loan balance write-downs – that were not included in the March 26 announcement. Such measures are critical to avoiding disruption in the country’s food supply chain.

We also urge you to prioritize and fully leverage existing programs at the Department that are well suited to resolving loan and credit impacts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the Agricultural Mediation Program. This existing federal-state partnership has a proven track record of providing confidential and neutral forums to discuss and resolve loan and credit issues between farmers and their lenders. The program’s caseloads have steadily risen over the past eight years and can be expected to increase as the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic ripple through the rural economy.

We will continue working to provide for additional support for farmers and rural communities to address the ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic. In the meantime, we urge you to consider actions that will provide flexibility and temporary relief for borrowers and ensure adequate and equitable access to credit.

Thank you for your continued work on behalf of American farmers and ranchers. We stand ready and willing to work with you to help get farmers through these extraordinary circumstances. 

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to waive a requirement that needlessly forces children – including those who are immunocompromised – to physically accompany their parent or guardian to a school lunch distribution site in order to receive USDA-reimbursable meals, therefore putting them at increased risk of contracting COVID-19.

“Current USDA regulations prohibit school districts from distributing meals to families unless the child is present. While we understand the need for this policy under normal circumstances, the current public health emergency demonstrates a clear need for flexibility in food distribution policies to ensure every child has access to a healthy meal,” the Senators wrote in a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. “The current policy is burdensome on families and places children at increased risk – especially those who are immunocompromised. This creates a difficult situation for some families who must decide between potentially placing their children at risk of infection and skipping meals.”

According to reports, Virginia families with at-risk children have already been put in the difficult position of choosing whether to seek the food assistance they need, or safeguard the health and safety of their child.

“To meet the nutrition needs of all children during the current public health crisis, we request that USDA establish guidelines for states that remove the in-person requirements for families with at-risk children to reduce unnecessary exposure to COVID-19,” they continued. “Removing this restriction would go a long way to ensuring children in Virginia have access to healthy meals during this public health emergency and are not placed at undue risk.”

In their letter, the Senators also urged USDA to do more to make sure that children in Virginia continue to have access to healthy and nutritious foods during this crisis.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been strong advocates of expanded access to food assistance for families in the Commonwealth amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Earlier this week, the Senators urged USDA to swiftly approve Virginia’s request to operate a Disaster Household Distribution Program, which would allow food banks to distribute USDA foods directly to Virginia families in need while limiting interactions between food bank staff, volunteers, and recipients. 

A copy of the letter can be found here and below.

 

The Honorable Sonny Perdue 

Secretary

United States Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Perdue:

We write today concerning the ongoing public health crisis caused by the spread of COVID-19 and the unprecedented nutrition challenges children in Virginia and across the country are facing. We appreciate all the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is doing to meet this unique challenge, including waiving the congregate meal requirements for child nutrition programs. However, we believe more must be done to ensure children in Virginia continue to have access to healthy and nutritious meals during this state of emergency.

Current USDA regulations prohibit school districts from distributing meals to families unless the child is present. While we understand the need for this policy under normal circumstances, the current public health emergency demonstrates a clear need for flexibility in food distribution policies to ensure every child has access to a healthy meal. The current policy is burdensome on families and places children at increased risk – especially those who are immunocompromised. This creates a difficult situation for some families who must decide between potentially placing their children at risk of infection and skipping meals. 

To meet the nutrition needs of all children during the current public health crisis, we request that USDA establish guidelines for states that remove the in-person requirements for families with at-risk children to reduce unnecessary exposure to COVID-19. Removing this restriction would go a long way to ensuring children in Virginia have access to healthy meals during this public health emergency and are not placed at undue risk.

Again, thank you for your attention to this matter and all you are doing to ensure children have access to healthy and nutritious foods during this challenging time. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely, 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) sent a letter to the Administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urging for swift approval of Virginia’s request to operate a Disaster Household Distribution Program. This designation by the Food and Nutrition Service would allow food banks to distribute USDA foods directly to Virginia’s neediest families while limiting the interactions between food bank staff, volunteers, and recipients during the coronavirus outbreak. 

“In Virginia, many households are out of work due to the ongoing public health emergency. This has created an unprecedented increase in need for food services across the Commonwealth. With little time to prepare, many families have found themselves without the finances to maintain a healthy diet. Unfortunately, congregate food distribution is not an option at this time due to the potential spread of COVID-19. A household distribution program is required to ensure the safe and efficient distribution of food to families in need,” wrote the Senators to Administrator Pam Miller of the Food and Nutrition Service. 

In their letter, the Senators underscore that food banks serve as a vital lifeline for families across the Commonwealth. With the designation of the Disaster Household Distribution Program, the burdensome paperwork that often accompanies a family’s application for food assistance would be removed in an effort to expeditiously distribute food to families in need.

“The Virginia Federation of Foodbanks – working in conjunction with VDACS – will operate the Disaster Household Distribution Program in the Commonwealth. Virginia foodbanks will utilize their existing inventories of USDA foods and donated foods to help supplement families’ nutritional needs. Participants in the program will not be required to complete long and burdensome application forms. The goal will be to limit interaction between staff, volunteers, and recipients to ensure the safe and expeditious delivery of food to families,” they continued.

On March 19, 2020, the Commonwealth submitted a formal request to operate a Household Disaster Distribution Program.

A copy of the letter can be found here and below.

 

Dear Administrator Miller: 

We write today in support of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service’s (VDACS) request to operate a Disaster Household Distribution Program in Virginia due to the ongoing public health emergency caused by the spread of COVID-19. Timely approval of this request is needed to ensure families in Virginia have access to healthy foods during this crisis.

In Virginia, many households are out of work due to the ongoing public health emergency. This has created an unprecedented increase in need for food services across the Commonwealth. With little time to prepare, many families have found themselves without the finances to maintain a healthy diet. Unfortunately, congregate food distribution is not an option at this time due to the potential spread of COVID-19. A household distribution program is required to ensure the safe and efficient distribution of food to families in need.

The Virginia Federation of Foodbanks – working in conjunction with VDACS – will operate the Disaster Household Distribution Program in the Commonwealth. Virginia foodbanks will utilize their existing inventories of USDA foods and donated foods to help supplement families’ nutritional needs. Participants in the program will not be required to complete long and burdensome application forms. The goal will be to limit interaction between staff, volunteers, and recipients to ensure the safe and expeditious delivery of food to families.

In order to ensure Virginians in need are able to access food in a safe and timely manner, we urge you approve the Commonwealth’s request to operate a Disaster Household Distribution Program. Thank you for your consideration of this request and all you do to ensure Americans have access to healthy foods.

Sincerely, 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) to enable thousands of federal civil servants, who have experience with rapid emergency response, to assist rural communities that are increasingly overwhelmed by the challenge of responding to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Of Virginia’s 67 confirmed cases, there are growing outbreaks in rural areas including James City County, Farmville, and Hanover. In their letter, the Senators underscore that the USDA and DOI have the relevant experience to best meet the challenges rural communities in Virginia face.

“We write to request your immediate assistance in mobilizing your agencies to offer coordinated support for rural counties, municipalities, and tribal communities as they respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19),” wrote the Senators in their letter to FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, and DOI Secretary David Bernhardt. “Rural communities are working to set up local emergency operation centers to help manage their response, but face challenges with limited staff capacity. Across many of our states, rural counties are experiencing outbreaks and some communities are already overwhelmed with the challenge.”

Federal civil servants across the country at agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are located in rural communities and uniquely qualified in emergency management. Many are Incident Command System qualified, have experience mobilizing resources, and coordinating communication and information flow to respond to and contain crises like forest fires. This expertise would bolster the response to coronavirus outbreaks in rural communities across the country.

“We believe these federal professionals are well suited to partner with rural counties and municipalities to enhance staff capacity and support communities facing this public health crisis,” continued the Senators. Therefore, in light of the national emergency declaration, we urge you to take immediate steps to ensure your agencies are working together to make your respective staff and resources available and able to assist with emergency response to COVID-19 across the country.”

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letter was led by Sen. Michel Bennet (D-CO) and signed by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Steve Daines (R-MT), Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Gary Peters (D-MI), Senate Indian Affairs Committee Ranking Member Tom Udall (D-NM), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA), Doug Jones (D-Al), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jeffery Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tom Carper (D-DE), Tina Smith (D-MN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Jon Tester (D-MT).

A copy of the letter is found here and below.

 

Dear Administrator Gaynor, Secretary Perdue, and Secretary Bernhardt:

We write to request your immediate assistance in mobilizing your agencies to offer coordinated support for rural counties, municipalities, and tribal communities as they respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Rural communities are working to set up local emergency operation centers to help manage their response, but face challenges with limited staff capacity. Across many of our states, rural counties are experiencing outbreaks and some communities are already overwhelmed with the challenge.

Throughout rural America, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture employ thousands of federal civil servants who have the relevant experience to assist with emergency response. For example, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management employ thousands of staff across the country who are Incident Command System qualified and have experience rapidly responding to forest fires, mobilizing critical resources, and managing information flow in times of crisis. With this expertise available, it is crucial that the Federal Emergency Management Agency provide the authorities necessary and work with both agencies to deliver effective, coordinated assistance to rural communities.

We believe these federal professionals are well suited to partner with rural counties and municipalities to enhance staff capacity and support communities facing this public health crisis. Therefore, in light of the national emergency declaration, we urge you to take immediate steps to ensure your agencies are working together to make your respective staff and resources available and able to assist with emergency response to COVID-19 across the country.

Thank you for considering this request.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released a statement after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced its decision to release an additional 35,000 H-2B temporary nonagricultural worker visas – a move that will benefit Virginia’s seafood processing industry, a community largely made up of rural, family-owned operations. This decision follows strong advocacy by Sen. Warner, who has repeatedly urged DHS to release additional visas in order to provide much-needed support to the seafood industry in the Commonwealth.

“I’m relieved to know that with harvest season approaching, Virginia’s family-owned seafood processors will be able to access these additional visas in order to hire more seasonal workers and keep their operations up and running,” said Sen. Warner. “I’ve heard from many seafood businesses how difficult it can be to fulfill labor needs in an industry with such tough and temporary jobs like processing crabs and shucking oysters. I know Virginia businesses still have questions about how the visas will be allocated and how soon they can get workers on the job. I will continue to stay in close contact with both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor and push for these answers. Going forward, we have to work to make sure that our seafood processors no longer have to worry about whether they will be forced to lose supply agreements due to a lack of labor. That’s why I’m going to continue fighting for legislation I introduced to strengthen the H-2B visa program and help seasonal employers better prepare for fluctuations in demand during peak seasons.”

H-2B visas allow employers to temporarily hire nonimmigrant workers to perform nonagricultural labor or services in the United States if U.S. workers are not available, after completing rigorous application and certification process. These visas are critical to the survival of Virginia’s seafood industry – particularly the seafood processing community around the Chesapeake Bay.

According to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s last complete study of this kind, the commercial seafood industry in Virginia generates $407.9 million in economic output, which includes all economic activity from harvesters to restaurants. Of that $407.9 million, 62 percent comes from seafood processing/wholesaling firms – the primary companies who rely on the H-2B worker program. Additionally, according to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, in 2017, Virginia oysters alone had a dockside value of more than $48.9 million dollars, followed by Quahog Clams with more than $47.6 million and Blue Crabs with more than $38 million in dockside value.

Sen. Warner has long advocated for the release of these additional visas. Most recently, he led six of his Senate colleagues in urging DHS to release additional H-2B visas needed to support local seafood businesses. In February, in a bipartisan call, he pressed DHS Secretary Wolf to release the additional Congressionally-authorized H-2B visas, to publicly announce this intent, and to do so as quickly as possible. Additionally, earlier this year, he joined a bipartisan, bicameral letter calling on the Administration to increase the statutory cap of H-2B visas for FY20. He also recently met with DOL Secretary Eugene Scalia to discuss the impact of the H-2B program on Virginia and urge the Secretary to work alongside DHS to release the additional visas in a timely fashion.

Sen. Warner has previously introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen the H-2B visa program, and has requested an audit to determine the number of unused visas that could be made available to eligible petitioners.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) applauded the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) announcement that 84 counties and cities in Virginia are now eligible to apply for two programs that protect hemp producers’ crops in the 2020 growing season. The Multi-Peril Crop Insurance (MPCI) pilot program provides coverage for hemp producers in case of crop loss due to natural disasters. The Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) coverage protects against crop losses where no permanent federal crop insurance program is available. Virginia’s eligibility in the hemp crop insurance pilot program is a direct result of the Senators’ successful push for the Commonwealth’s inclusion. Virginia’s hemp producers may now apply for the programs by the March 16, 2020 deadline. 

“We are pleased that Virginia’s hemp producers will now be able to protect their crops in the event of unforeseen disasters,” said the Senators. “With Virginia positioned to be a top producer of industrial hemp in the country, these additional protections will help hemp growers tap into this thriving industry.”

The 84 counties and cities now eligible are: Accomack, Amelia, Amherst, Appomattox, Augusta, Bath, Bedford, Bland, Botetourt, Brunswick, Buckingham, Campbell, Caroline, Carroll, Charles City, Charlotte, Chesapeake City, Chesterfield, Clarke, Craig, Culpeper, Dinwiddie, Essex, Fairfax, Fauquier, Floyd, Fluvanna, Franklin, Frederick, Gloucester, Goochland, Grayson, Greene, Greensville, Halifax, Hanover, Henrico, Henry, Isle of Wight, James City, King And Queen, King George, King William, Lancaster, Lee, Loudoun, Louisa, Lunenburg, Madison, Mathews, Mecklenburg, Middlesex, Montgomery, Nelson, New Kent, Northampton, Northumberland, Nottoway, Orange, Page, Patrick, Pittsylvania, Powhatan, Prince Edward, Prince George, Prince William, Pulaski, Rappahannock, Richmond, Rockbridge, Rockingham, Shenandoah, Smyth, Southampton, Spotsylvania, Suffolk City, Surry, Sussex, Virginia Beach, Warren, Washington, Westmoreland, Wythe, and York. 

Hemp is distinct from marijuana in that it has a miniscule concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and thus no narcotic capability. The plant is estimated to be used in more than 25,000 products, including agriculture, textile, recycling, automotive, furniture, food, nutrition, beverage, paper, personal care, and construction products. In 2018, the Senators sponsored a provision in the Farm Bill that removed hemp from the list of controlled substances, allowing Virginia farmers to grow and sell the plant as a commodity and making it eligible for crop insurance. According to recent VDACS data, there are now over 1,100 registered industrial hemp growers across the Commonwealth. 

In December 2019, the Senators backed two bipartisan, bicameral spending bills that provided $16.5 million in new funding to implement the Hemp Production Program. Additionally, in December, they urged USDA to make changes to its proposed hemp regulations to better help Virginia farmers seeking to grow industrial hemp. Recently, the Senators sent a letter to the USDA to expedite its review of Virginia’s Plan to Regulate Hemp Production to provide sufficient time for the General Assembly to update the Commonwealth’s hemp laws and address any potential deficiencies that may arise ahead of the 2020 growing season. 

 

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WASHINGTON – With the General Assembly session scheduled to adjourn in March 2020, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to expedite its review of Virginia’s Plan to Regulate Hemp Production, in order to provide sufficient time for the General Assembly to update the Commonwealth’s hemp laws and address any potential deficiencies that may arise following USDA review.

“Industrial hemp presents an unprecedented opportunity for Virginia producers, and it is critically important that state and federal guidelines provide certainty and security to our farmers,” wrote the Senators. “Expeditious review of Virginia’s Plan to Regulate Hemp Production is needed to provide VDACS and other state agencies with the information they need to run an effective hemp program for the 2020 growing season.”

"Virginia is poised to be a top producer of industrial hemp in the country. In 2019, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) registered over 1,200 growers to produce approximately 2,200 acres of industrial hemp. We expect these figures to grow substantially in 2020 and beyond,” they continued. “If Virginia’s Hemp Production Plan is not processed in a timely manner, we are concerned this could cause complications for the Commonwealth’s hemp program and our producers, who are eager to take advantage of this exciting opportunity.”

Hemp is distinct from marijuana in that it has a miniscule concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and thus no narcotic capability. The plant is estimated to be used in more than 25,000 products, including agriculture, textile, recycling, automotive, furniture, food, nutrition, beverage, paper, personal care, and construction products.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been strong supporters of hemp as an agricultural commodity. In 2018, the Senators sponsored a provision in the Farm Bill that removed hemp from the list of controlled substances, allowing Virginia farmers to grow and sell the plant as a commodity. More recently in September 2019, Sens. Warner and Kaine successfully secured Virginia’s inclusion in a pilot to develop a crop insurance program for industrial hemp. In December 2019, the Senators backed two bipartisan, bicameral spending bills that provided $16.5 million in new funding to implement the Hemp Production Program. Additionally, in December, they urged USDA to make changes to its proposed hemp regulations to better help Virginia farmers seeking to grow industrial hemp.

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

 

Mr. Bruce Summers

Administrator

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) - Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)

1400 Independence Ave SW

Washington, DC 20228

Dear Mr. Summers:

We write today concerning the Commonwealth of Virginia’s recent submission of its Plan to Regulate Hemp Production. In the interest of ensuring the success of Virginia’s burgeoning hemp industry, we encourage USDA to review the Commonwealth’s plan expeditiously to provide growers across Virginia the certainty they require entering the 2020 growing season.

Virginia is poised to be a top producer of industrial hemp in the country. In 2019, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) registered over 1,200 growers to produce approximately 2,200 acres of industrial hemp. We expect these figures to grow substantially in 2020 and beyond. Industrial hemp presents an unprecedented opportunity for Virginia producers, and it is critically important that state and federal guidelines provide certainty and security to our farmers.

Expeditious review of Virginia’s Plan to Regulate Hemp Production is needed to provide VDACS and other state agencies with the information they need to run an effective hemp program for the 2020 growing season. In addition, the Virginia General Assembly is currently in session, and if any deficiencies that require legislative updates are found in the Commonwealth’s plan, a quick review and response would be helpful to guide the legislature. Virginia’s General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn in early March 2020, which provides a relatively narrow window of opportunity for the legislature to address any potential deficiencies. If Virginia’s Hemp Production Plan is not processed in a timely manner, we are concerned this could cause complications for the Commonwealth’s hemp program and our producers, who are eager to take advantage of this exciting opportunity.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure the development of a viable U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program. Please let us know if we can be of assistance moving forward.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $1,549,891 in federal funding for the University of Virginia (UVA) and Virginia Tech to improve resources for the U.S. agricultural industry and rural communities. This funding was awarded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Food and Agriculture Cyberinformatics and Tools (FACT) Initiative, which focuses on data-driven solutions to address problems facing the agricultural industry.

“We’re pleased to announce this funding to focus on strengthening our country’s agricultural industry and lifting up rural communities,” said the Senators. “Agriculture is a significant part of Virginia’s economy, and we’re excited to see UVA and Virginia Tech receive significant investments to boost this critical industry.”

The funding will be awarded as below:

  • $999,975 for the University of Virginia to support a 10-week program for undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and professionals to learn how to use data science to better address agricultural, economic, and social issues facing rural America. The funding will help the program create a workforce trained in analytics so they can better utilize data to strengthen their communities.
  •  $499,952 for the University of Virginia to better understand America’s agricultural commodity flows and their role in the spread of invasive species, which is important for food security and economic stability. This project will help provide policy makers with guidance to better address vulnerabilities in food systems.
  • $49,964 for Virginia Tech to safeguard the agriculture and food bioeconomy from cyber threats. The bioeconomy – innovation in biological sciences to boost economic activity – is estimated at approximately 25% of U.S. GDP.

According to the USDA, “FACT focuses on data science to enable systems and communities to effectively utilize data, improve resource management, and integrate new technologies and approaches to further U.S. food and agriculture enterprises. Projects funded through FACT will work to examine the value of data for small and large farmers, agricultural and food industries, and gain an understanding of how data can impact the agricultural supply chain, reduce food waste and loss, improve consumer health, environmental and natural resource management, affect the structure of U.S. food and agriculture sectors, and increase U.S. competitiveness.”

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), member of the Senate Committee on Finance, addressed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) before voting in favor of the deal during a Finance Committee vote. In his opening remarks, Sen. Warner expressed optimism for the deal’s positive impact on Virginia’s farmers, but noted his concern regarding the Trump Administration’s erratic approach to trade, and the impact that these strained interactions could have on our nation’s relationship with key allies and partners abroad.

“I’m optimistic that this trade agreement will help American farmers, ports, manufacturers, retailers, and workers. As others have pointed out, the deal addresses issues like digital trade, that NAFTA couldn’t fully anticipate and decreases market barriers to agricultural products that have been huge points of concern for Virginia farmers,” said Sen. Warner in the committee hearing. “Overall, I’m hopeful that this agreement will provide the consistency and stability that the business community needs. At the same time, I worry that the process that led us to this point may result in reduced U.S. credibility and trust from our allies and closest trading partners. Throughout the negotiation process, the President’s efforts to levy tariffs on Canada and Mexico, and to make repeated threats to withdraw from NAFTA or to heedlessly close the border with Mexico, have exemplified the troubling and erratic approach to trade issues that we’ve seen from the Administration.”

He continued, “Alienating our closest allies with the misuse of national security tariffs is counterproductive and endangers American security. That is why Senator Toomey and I have offered the Bicameral Trade Authority Act, to curb abuses of 232 authority. I’m hopeful that with ratification of this deal will offer an opportunity for this committee to reexamine those efforts in a bipartisan fashion.”

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement was officially signed by the three participating countries on November 30th, 2018. In the wake of pressure from Democrats, led by Speaker Pelosi, the Trump Administration announced on December 9th the addition of new labor protections and enforcement provisions. Soon after, Sen. Warner announced his support of the USMCA, which intends to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The USMCA, which passed the House of Representatives by a 385-41 vote, awaits consideration in the Senate.

 

Sen. Warner’s remarks are available below:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

As we all know, strong trading relationships improve our nation’s economy. I’m optimistic that this trade agreement will help American farmers, ports, manufacturers, retailers, and workers. As others have pointed out, the deal addresses issues like digital trade, that NAFTA couldn’t fully anticipate and decreases market barriers to agricultural products that have been huge points of concern for Virginia farmers.

I want to add congratulations to Ranking Member Wyden, Senator Brown and our House colleagues, because now this agreement finally includes strong labor protections to ensure that companies in our partner nations are held accountable and that American workers can compete on a level playing field.

Overall, I’m hopeful that this agreement will provide the consistency and stability that the business community needs.

At the same time, I worry that the process that led us to this point may result in reduced U.S. credibility and trust from our allies and closest trading partners. Throughout the negotiation process, the President’s efforts to levy tariffs on Canada and Mexico, and to make repeated threats to withdraw from NAFTA or to heedlessly close the border with Mexico, have exemplified the troubling and erratic approach to trade issues that we’ve seen from the Administration.

Our trade relationships are a key form of diplomacy, allowing us to increase U.S. influence abroad and deepen our relationships with foreign partners in ways that benefit not just American prosperity but U.S. security and leadership. Alienating our closest allies with the misuse of national security tariffs is counterproductive and endangers American security. That is why Senator Toomey and I have offered the Bicameral Trade Authority Act, to curb abuses of 232 authority. I’m hopeful that with ratification of this deal will offer an opportunity for this committee to reexamine those efforts in a bipartisan fashion.

Finally, and I made an agreement with the ranking member not to raise this issue during these considerations but I do want to take note that I have serious concerns with the inclusion of safe harbor language modeled on section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Congress is beginning, at this point, an important bipartisan debate about whether section 230 is working as intended. And many, including many prominent civil rights groups, believe that section 230 has allowed internet intermediaries to ignore misuse of their platforms by bad actors. This is an issue that I think needs our attention and that I hope we can revisit in a bipartisan way. Again, I commend everybody who worked on this.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) wrote to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to encourage the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to make changes to its proposed hemp regulations to better help Virginia farmers seeking to grow industrial hemp. Responding to concerns raised by farmers in Virginia, the Senators encouraged the Department to make several specific changes to draft plans regulating the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program, which was established by Congress as part of the 2018 Farm Bill.

“We appreciate USDA’s commitment to developing a viable U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program for hemp producers in Virginia and across the country. We look forward to working with you to ensure Virginia hemp growers are able to take full advantage of this opportunity,” the Senators wrote in a letter to Secretary Perdue.

Among the issues the Senators raised in their letter:

  • USDA’s interim final rule requires growers to test hemp plants within 15 days of anticipated harvest. The Senators urged USDA to adopt a more reasonable testing timeframe of 30 days to reduce burdens to hemp producers and reduce unnecessary delays in getting products to market.
  • USDA’s interim final rules requires that hemp plant testing must be conducted by a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)-registered laboratory, but Virginia has only a small number of DEA-registered labs. The Senators urged USDA to remove the requirement that testing can only occur at DEA-registered labs and allow testing to be conducted at independent testing labs that meet USDA standards.
  • USDA’s interim final rule establishes a negligence threshold for hemp at 0.5% delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). If a grower is found to have hemp with a THC level above 0.5% they could face legal repercussions under the current guidelines. The Senators urged USDA to raise the threshold to 1.0% THC before a grower is subject to penalties, since it is possible hemp growers could take all the necessary steps and precautions to produce hemp according to the guidelines and still produce hemp plants that exceed the 0.5% THC concentration due to factors out of their control. The Senators also urged USDA to examine mediation options to deal with growers who accidentally exceed the THC threshold.
  • The Senators also asked USDA to offer “maximum flexibility” to states like Virginia when it comes to implementing industrial hemp production, noting that Virginia is in the process of developing a State Action Plan to adhere to the 2018 Farm Bill and USDA rulemaking, but that the General Assembly in Virginia, like many states, is only in session for a short period, and it is possible that USDA will issue a final rule after the General Assembly has already completed its 2020 session.

Sens. Warner and Kaine championed the legislation to legalize the production of industrial hemp, a crop which is already cultivated for research purposes in Virginia. Hemp is distinct from marijuana in that it has a miniscule concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and thus no narcotic capability. The plant is estimated to be used in more than 25,000 products spanning agriculture, textiles, recycling, automotive, furniture, food, nutrition, beverages, paper, construction materials, and personal care. In September, Warner and Kaine successfully secured Virginia’s inclusion in a pilot to develop a crop insurance program for industrial hemp.  

The full text of the letter appears below. A copy of the letter is available here.

 

The Honorable Sonny Perdue

Secretary

United States Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Perdue:

We write today to provide comments in response to the issuance of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) interim final rule for the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program. While we applaud USDA for its work in developing this rule in a timely manner, we are concerned about some of the effects this interim final rule would have on hemp production in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Virginia has taken full advantage of recent changes in federal law to become a national leader in industrial hemp research and production. As of November 2019, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has registered 1,183 industrial hemp growers, 262 processors, and 117 dealers. Nearly 2,200 acres of industrial hemp were planted in the Commonwealth in 2019. In addition, VDACS projects that Virginia growers could plant up to 15,000 acres of hemp during the 2020 growing season. Industrial hemp presents an incredible opportunity for Virginia farmers, and it is important that guidelines and regulations for the hemp industry do not unduly burden our growers.

Following, in no particular order, are our concerns regarding the interim final rule. We appreciate your consideration of these concerns and look forward to working with you as USDA finalizes its U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program.

  • USDA’s interim final rule requires growers to test hemp plants within 15 days of anticipated harvest. We are concerned that a 15-day testing window will not provide adequate time for growers to test each crop, submit the testing sample, and receive a response. A 15-day window would be incredibly burdensome for Virginia hemp producers and would lead to unnecessary delays in getting products to market. We believe a 30-day window would provide a more reasonable testing timeframe that would be less burdensome on producers and testing facilities.
  • USDA’s interim final rule requires that hemp plant testing must be conducted by a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)-registered laboratory. Currently, Virginia only has very limited number of DEA-registered labs. With the projected increase in hemp production in Virginia and the proposed 15-day turnaround time for testing, it will be incredibly difficult for a small number of DEA-registered labs to meet these requirements during harvesting season. A backlog at testing facilities could negatively impact Virginia growers, processors, and dealers. We recommend that USDA remove the requirement that testing can only occur at DEA-registered labs and allow testing to be conducted at independent testing labs that meet USDA standards.
  • The interim final rule establishes a negligence threshold for hemp at 0.5% delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). If a grower is found to have hemp with a THC level above 0.5% they could face legal repercussions under the current guidelines. We are concerned that the 0.5% THC threshold is arbitrary and far too low considering THC levels can vary widely depending on a number of factors including weather and geography. Hemp growers could take all the necessary steps and precautions to produce hemp according to the guidelines and still produce hemp plants that exceed the 0.5% THC concentration due to factors out of their control. We believe this threshold should be raised to at least 1.0% THC before a grower is subject to negligent violation to protect individuals who follow regulations and best practices. We also encourage USDA to examine mediation options to deal with growers who accidentally exceed the THC threshold.
  • Finally, as USDA begins to implement a final rule we ask that the agency consider how implementation impacts individual states. Many states, including Virginia, are in the process of developing State Action Plans that adhere to the 2018 Farm Bill and USDA rulemaking. However, the Virginia General Assembly, along with many state legislatures, are only in session for a short period. Once USDA implements its final rule, the Virginia General Assembly will need to pass legislation aligning its hemp program with USDA’s regulations. It is possible that USDA will issue the final rule after the Virginia General Assembly has completed its 2020 session. We ask that USDA consider these timelines and provide maximum flexibility to states as they prepare to implement their State Action Plans.

Again, thank you for your careful consideration of these concerns. We appreciate USDA’s commitment to developing a viable U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program for hemp producers in Virginia and across the country. We look forward to working with you to ensure Virginia hemp growers are able to take full advantage of this opportunity.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today applauded the news that the Chinese government will lift the import ban on U.S. poultry products that has been in place since 2015, effective immediately.

“For years, we have raised concerns about China’s unfair ban on U.S. poultry products and today’s announcement that the ban will be lifted, effective immediately, is great news for Virginia poultry producers,” said the Senators. “While we’re pleased by today’s news that this unreasonable and arbitrary policy will be reversed, we remain deeply concerned that the Trump Administration still appears to lack a comprehensive strategy to deal with China’s unfair trade practices and the long-term threats to U.S. jobs and national security posed by China’s rampant intellectual property theft and economic espionage. We strongly urge the President not to lose sight of those important goals, or the pain the Administration’s tariffs continue to cause for many of Virginia’s businesses, workers and consumers.”

In July 2017, Sen. Warner and Sen. Kaine sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, urging the Trump Administration to push the Chinese government to end its ban on the sale of American poultry products. In February of this year, Sen. Warner and eight other bipartisan Senators sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, calling on the Trump Administration to reach a trade agreement with China lifting the ban on U.S. poultry and other barriers to U.S. agriculture products while also addressing issues such as Chinese intellectual property theft, forced technology transfer, and unfair subsidies for state-owned enterprises.

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WASHINGTON, D.C.— Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine applauded Senate passage of bipartisan legislation to fund federal programs critical to Virginia under the Department of Transportation (DOT), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Department of Commerce (DOC), Department of Justice (DOJ), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Department of Interior (DOI). 

On a bipartisan 84-9 vote, the Senate approved the Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations package that covers funding for Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD); Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration; Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS); Interior and Environment; and all of their related agencies. Warner and Kaine pushed for many Virginia priorities through the appropriations process and have long pressed the Senate to return to regular budget order to make sure there are no gaps in funding that could cause a government shutdown.

“I’m pleased to see the passage of this bipartisan legislation, which includes significant support for Virginia priorities,” Warner said. “This bill provides much-needed resources for ongoing Chesapeake Bay restoration and cleanup efforts. It also supports investments to the Metro system that are critical to the capital region, and vital funding to support families across the Commonwealth. I’m also pleased that this bill includes my provision to give Congress more clarity on the Department of Justice’s progress on Ashanti Alert implementation. As we move forward, it’s my hope that my colleagues in both the House and the Senate will continue fighting to ensure the Ashanti Alert implementation is a priority for this Administration.”

“Each year, I’m proud to help secure federal funding that will strengthen the economy and improve the lives of Virginians,” Kaine said. “I’m pleased that again, key Virginia priorities we made the case for – like funding to promote a healthy Chesapeake Bay, improve daily commutes, and support economic development in coal communities – were included in the appropriations package passed by the Senate. I hope Congress passes a final appropriations bill quickly so that Virginians benefit from this funding without delay.” 

The following list includes many of the provisions Senators Warner and Kaine supported on behalf of Virginia that were included in the appropriations package:

  • Ashanti Alert System: The bill includes a provision supported by both Senators that forces the Department of Justice (DOJ) to provide Congress with a progress report of the Ashanti Alert implementation 30 days immediately after the appropriations bill is signed into law. Additionally, the amendment requires that the DOJ establish a deadline for full implementation no later than 90 days after the enactment of the Ashanti Alert Act, which creates an alert system for missing or endangered adults ages 18-64.
  • Broadband Grants: The bill provides $30 million to fund a grant program administered by the Rural Utilities Service that brings critical services to some of the most rural, underserved areas in America. The program provides financing to support new or improved broadband access across rural America and enable telecommunications providers to fill gaps where there is little or no broadband service. Broadband access has become a critical part of basic economic infrastructure for Virginians and is vital for job creation.
  • WMATA: The bill includes the full federal funding of $150 million for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) capital improvement. Warner and Kaine previously urged Senate appropriators to provide additional funding to WMATA to address the safety maintenance backlog. In May, the Senators introduced legislation to renew the federal funding commitment to Metro, provide critical safety reforms, and strengthen oversight of WMATA.
  • Child Nutrition: The bill provides $23.6 billion for Child Nutrition Programs, including $30 million for school equipment grants and $28 million for Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT). The Summer EBT program helps reach communities in Virginia that face barriers to participation in traditional summer food service programs and reduce rates of food insecurity among children.
  • Rural Water Infrastructure: The bill maintains $1.4 billion in water and waste direct loans and $549 million in water and waste grants to support quality of life in rural communities.
  • 400 Years of African American History Commemoration: The bill provides $500,000 for the commission to commemorate 400 years since the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to English Colonial America at Point Comfort, Virginia and honor four centuries of African American history. The Senators sponsored legislation, which was signed into law in 2018, to establish the commission. 
  • Chesapeake Bay: The bill provides $76 million for the Chesapeake Bay Program, a regional partnership that directs and conducts the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. It also includes $3 million for the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, which helps increase public access and the use of ecological, cultural, and historic resources of the Chesapeake region.
  • National Park Service: The bill provides $2.56 billion for operations of the National Park Service. In 2017, more than 24 million individuals visited Virginia’s National Parks. National Park Service assets also fill critical transportation needs for Virginians, such as the Arlington Memorial Bridge, connecting Northern Virginia with the District of Columbia. The bill also provides $1.25 billion for bridge repair and replacement, $100 million for nationally significant federal transportation assets, and $100 million for the Appalachian Development Highway System. This funding could help with Virginia's backlogged maintenance needs at Colonial National Historical Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway, as well as long overdue needs on the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Senator Warner has sponsored legislation, cosponsored by Kaine, to address the $12 billion maintenance backlog at the National Park Service, half of which is transportation needs.
  • Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF): The bill provides $465 million for LWCF, which has helped preserve forests, trails, wildlife refuges, historic battlefields, and Chesapeake Bay lands and waters in Virginia. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, the Virginia outdoors industry supports approximately $21.9 billion in annual consumer spending and 197,000 direct jobs.
  • Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fund: The bill provides $139.7 million for the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to remediate environmental contamination, rehabilitate sites for economically productive use, and support jobs in the process. Warner and Kaine spearheaded legislation earlier this year that would release $1 billion from the remaining, unappropriated balance in the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to states to be spent on reclamation projects in communities impacted by abandoned mine lands and the recent decrease in coal mining production. 
  • Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG): CDBG helps communities develop projects that meet unique housing, infrastructure, and economic development needs and supports job creation. The bill provides $3.325 billion for CDBG. The bill rejects the President’s proposals to increase rent for public housing residents and protects critical sources of funding for affordable housing such as the HOME program. Senators Warner and Kaine have strongly opposed President Trump’s efforts to cut funding for affordable housing.
  • BUILD Infrastructure Grants: The bill provides $1 billion for competitive transportation grants through the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) program, formerly known as “TIGER” grants. Virginia has previously used these grants for projects including I-95 Express Lanes, I-564 connector from Norfolk International Terminals at the Port of Virginia, I-64 Delta Frames Bridges in Rockbridge County, the Pulse bus-rapid transit system in Richmond, and Northstar Boulevard in Loudoun County near Dulles.
  • Remote Tower System: The bill provides $9.5 million for the FAA to continue its remote tower systems pilot program at smaller airports. As part of the program, air traffic controllers are able to work remotely, which could help ease capacity and staffing constraints. This would support the Remote Tower Center partnership between Leesburg Executive Airport and Saab Technologies, as well as similar remote tower pilot projects being developed around the country.
  • Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT): The bill fully funds the PILT program, estimated to be around $500 million, in order to help local governments offset losses in property taxes due to non-taxable federal lands within their boundaries. In FY2019, Virginia received roughly $5.8 million from PILT, of which the largest recipients were Augusta, Rockingham, Bath, Alleghany, and Craig Counties.
  • Virginia Tribes: In 2018, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2017, legislation introduced by Senators Warner and Kaine that granted federal recognition to six Virginia tribes: the Chickahominy, the Eastern Chickahominy, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock, the Monacan, and the Nansemond. The appropriations bill provides $1.281 million to continue to help Virginia tribes access the federal resources available to them after their successful, decades-long effort to secure federal recognition. It also includes an additional $11.5 million for delivery of health care services for Virginia tribes.
  • Hemp: The bill provides $16.5 million in new funding to implement the Hemp Production Program, which was authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill. Senators Warner and Kaine have been strong supporters of hemp as an agricultural commodity. The Farm Bill included a provision sponsored by both Senators that removed hemp from the list of controlled substances, allowing Virginia farmers to grow and sell the plant as a commodity for use in agriculture, textile, recycling, automotive, furniture, food, nutrition, beverage, paper, personal care, and construction products. The bill also includes $2 million for the FDA to research and develop policies on CBD.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $593,056 in federal funding for a Virginia Tech project to increase the impact of the Appalachian Beginning Forest Farmer Coalition (ABFFC) by increasing membership and improving opportunities and capabilities among forest farmers. This funding follows a strong push by Sen. Warner, who has urged continued investment in this project by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The funding was awarded through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) at NIFA, which provides grants to support education, mentoring, and technical assistance initiatives for beginning farmers or ranchers.

“Through the conversations I’ve had with forest farmers in Southwest Virginia, I know the importance of forest farming for both our economy and our ecosystems. That’s why I was glad to have been able to help secure this funding, which will foster leadership and further strengthen our forest farming industry,” said Sen. Warner.

“I’ve traveled across Virginia to hear from farmers about challenges they face and how I can support their work at the federal level. One big concern I heard was about barriers to entry for young people who want to farm. I’m excited that this federal funding will help train the next generation of forest farmers in Virginia,” said Sen. Kaine.

Forest farming is an agroforestry practice that cultivates herbal, edible, decorative, and handicraft non-timber forest products (NTFP) under a forest canopy modified or maintained to provide shade levels and habitats that favor growth and enhance production. Forest farming allows farmers to produce and sell raw material that is traceable, unadulterated, and sustainable. In 2016, consumers spent an estimated $7.45 billion on herbal supplements, an increase of approximately $530 million from 2013. 

ABFFC is a network of forestland owners, universities, and governmental and non-governmental organizations that share a common goal of improving agroforestry production opportunities and farming capabilities among forest farmers. The project, "Seeded and Growing: Sustaining Appalachian Beginning Forest Farmer Education and Engagement," aims to recruit 400 new and beginning Appalachian forest farmers to ABFFC, increasing membership to more than 1,400. It also seeks to provide advanced training and technical assistance to farmers, as well as promote mentorships, partnerships and networking for new and beginning forest farmers.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with U.S. Reps. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Don Beyer (D-VA), Ben Cline (R-VA), Elaine Luria (D-VA), Denver Riggleman (R-VA), and Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) today secured Virginia’s inclusion in a pilot program by AgriLogic Consulting, a private company developing a Federal Yield-Based Industrial Hemp Crop Insurance Program on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“We are thrilled to have been able to secure Virginia’s place in this critical pilot program,” said the members of Congress. “The Commonwealth has a long history of industrial hemp research and development and Virginia’s inclusion in this pilot program will allow producers to better protect their crops in the event of a natural disaster. Additionally, the data collected from our producers will help provide a stronger and more robust insurance product, benefitting growers, processors, consumers, and taxpayers across the U.S.”

Last year, Congress approved the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, commonly known as the “Farm Bill,” which legalized and clearly defined hemp as an agricultural commodity, removing it from the federal list of controlled substances and making it eligible for crop insurance. According to recent VDACS data, there are now over 1,000 registered industrial hemp growers across the Commonwealth.

Crop insurance is often critical for farmers to guard against unforeseen disasters. AgriLogic has been working with hemp growers and processors across the country to gather data as it develops a Federal Yield-Based Industrial Hemp Crop Insurance Program on behalf of USDA. Drafts of this pilot program initially did not include Virginia, potentially giving growers in other states an unfair advantage in the new market. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) was not even notified of an opportunity to participate until after initial pilot states had already been selected. 

Yesterday, the members sent a letter to AgriLogic, urging it to include Virginia in the hemp crop insurance program, which could begin as early as the 2020 growing season, if approved later this year by the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) Board of Directors. Today, AgriLogic announced that it will include Virginia in the plans it will submit to the USDA next week.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been strong supporters of hemp as an agricultural commodity. The Farm Bill included a provision sponsored by both Senators, that removed hemp from the list of controlled substances, allowing Virginia farmers to grow and sell the plant as a commodity for use in agriculture, textile, recycling, automotive, furniture, food, nutrition, beverage, paper, personal care, and construction products.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD) asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to explain its decision to reduce payments to Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) employees who have declined to relocate to Kansas City following the Trump Administration’s slapdash decision to move the two key research agencies out of Washington D.C.

“We are troubled by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) decision to lower VSIP payments by such a large amount, and we have serious concerns about the timing of this announcement and the burden it places on federal workers who have already endured significant hardship throughout this rushed relocation process,” the Senators wrote.

“This expedited timeline places an undue burden on these employees who were led to believe they would be offered buyouts at or near the federal maximum,” the Senators continued. “USDA has failed to explain why employees were not notified earlier that VSIP offers would be significantly less than $25,000, considering the agency already knew that more than half of ERS and NIFA employees had declined to relocate by the time VSIP applications were due. We are troubled that USDA did not relay this information to its employees sooner considering the impacts this decision can have on an individual’s career.”

On June 13, USDA informed ERS and NIFA employees that only a limited number of Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments (VSIPs) would be available to those who would not be relocating to the Kansas City region. Then, nearly two months later, employees found that the USDA had reduced their VSIP offers from $25,000 to $10,000, or $15,000 less than what is permitted, and often standard, under federal law. To make matters worse, employees were only given six days to accept this reduced payment, or make the life-altering decision of relocating across the country.

In their letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, the Senators reiterated their opposition to the proposed relocation while demanding that federal employees be treated with dignity and respect should relocation plans move forward. They also asked a series of questions, including how much USDA has budgeted for VSIP payments, why USDA was not prepared to offer the maximum buyout payment to employees, and why employees were not notified that the maximum buyout payment would be less than the federal maximum.

The Senators have been strong opponents of the USDA’s unnecessary relocation of ERS and NIFA. Earlier this year, Sens. Warner, Kaine, Cardin, and Van Hollen introduced legislation to bar the research agencies from leaving the National Capital Region. In May, they joined other members of Congress representing the National Capital Region in urging Secretary Perdue not to relocate the research agencies.

A copy of the letter can be found here and below.

 

Dear Secretary Perdue:

We write today concerning the recent issuance of Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment (VSIP) acceptance letters to Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) employees that offer $15,000 less than what is permitted under federal law and what is standard in nearly all other cases. We are troubled by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) decision to lower VSIP payments by such a large amount, and we have serious concerns about the timing of this announcement and the burden it places on federal workers who have already endured significant hardship throughout this rushed relocation process.

On June 13, 2019, USDA informed ERS and NIFA employees that a limited number of VSIPs would be available to individuals who declined to relocate to the Kansas City Region by September 30, 2019. Employees were subsequently given a deadline of July 15, 2019 to notify USDA if they did not plan to relocate. Employees who wished to apply for buyouts were only given one week – July 22, 2019 through July 29, 2019 – to submit their applications. This is a short timeline to a make a decision like this, especially considering that employees who accept these payments cannot work for the federal government for at least five years or are forced to return this payment.

Then, on August 20, 2019, those ERS and NIFA employees who received their VSIP acceptance letters found that their payments had been reduced from $25,000 to $10,000 – a reduction of 60 percent. Applicants were given only six days to accept or decline this payment by August 26, 2019. This expedited timeline places an undue burden on these employees who were led to believe they would be offered buyouts at or near the federal maximum. Traditionally, federal employees who resign with a VSIP have received close to the maximum amount of $25,000. From Fiscal Year 2012 to May 2017, nearly 37,000 federal employees resigned with a VSIP for an average payment of $24,470.

USDA has stated that its decision to reduce the amount per VSIP was made in order to accommodate all employees who were eligible to receive the buyout. However, USDA has failed to explain why employees were not notified earlier that VSIP offers would be significantly less than $25,000, considering the agency already knew that more than half of ERS and NIFA employees had declined to relocate by the time VSIP applications were due.

We are troubled that USDA did not relay this information to its employees sooner considering the impacts this decision can have on an individual’s career.

In response to this announcement, we would like to pose the following questions regarding VSIP payments:

How much does USDA have budgeted for VSIP payments, and from what authority?

Why was USDA not prepared to offer the maximum buyout payment or near the maximum to employees when that appears to be standard procedure among federal agencies?

Why were employees not notified ahead of the VSIP application window that the maximum buyout payment would be significantly less than the federal maximum?

As senators representing the National Capital Region, we remain opposed to this proposed relocation. However, should this process continue to move forward, we expect federal employees be treated with dignity and respect. We urge you to reconsider this decision and offer these employees the maximum VSIP payment allowable by law and extend the deadline for employees to consider these payments.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your response.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) released the following statement after China announced that it will instate additional retaliatory tariffs starting September 1 in response to President Trump’s plans to impose additional levies on Chinese goods:

“Time and time again, we have warned President Trump against escalating a trade war with China. Trade wars yield no winners and hurt consumers and producers all over the Commonwealth, especially the farmers and small business owners who count on Chinese demand for products grown in Virginia. We’re even seeing devastating second-order effects of this trade war, with the possibility that fires in the Amazon are being deliberately set to clear land for soybean exports to China. While the U.S. must absolutely crack down on China for its illegal trade practices, we can’t afford to do so in an incoherent and erratic way. Today’s announcement shows once again that the Trump Administration’s bizarre trade policies destabilize the economy, put the livelihoods of many Americans at risk, undermine global stability, and fundamentally fail to hold China accountable for its unfair practices.” 

According to an announcement by the Chinese finance ministry, China’s tariffs will range from five to ten percent on items such as agricultural products, apparel, chemicals, and textiles, in addition to a 25 percent tariff on automobiles and a five percent tariff on automobile parts. These levies are scheduled to take effect on September 1 and December 15, matching the dates of the President’s most recent tariffs.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have continuously warned the Trump Administration about how its haphazard approach on trade hurts Virginia’s families, businesses, and economy. According to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), China is the Commonwealth’s number-one agricultural export market for soybeans. In 2018, Virginia exported more than $58 million soybean products to China – an 83 percent decrease from 2017.

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WASHINGTON — Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) met with Jennifer Flynn, Superintendent of Shenandoah National Park, as well as Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, at Sen. Warner’s office in Washington, D.C.

In the meeting, Sen. Warner emphasized the need to pass the Restore Our Parks Act – bipartisan legislation to address the deferred maintenance backlog at national parks across the country. Recent figures from the National Park Service (NPS) show that the deferred maintenance backlog grew by more than $313 million last year – with a $100 million increase in Virginia alone. The maintenance backlog at Shenandoah National Park increased by more than $9 million in 2018, bringing its total to $88,765,195. The total overall cost of backlogged maintenance projects at NPS sites nationwide now reaches $11.9 billion, with Virginia accounting for over $1 billion of this backlog.

“Shenandoah National Park, like many national parks, is in dire need of maintenance,” said Sen. Warner. “If Congress fails to act, key infrastructure at the park will continue to deteriorate, harming the local economies and communities that rely on this national treasure. We need to properly invest in our national parks and their surrounding communities by passing the Restore Our Parks Act.”

According to the National Park Service, the 1.26 million visitors to Shenandoah National Park in 2018 spent $87 million in the surrounding communities. This visitor spending supports 1,077 local jobs and more than $116 million in economic output.

The Restore Our Parks Act has widespread support among legislators and conservation groups. It would reduce the maintenance backlog by establishing the “National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund” and allocating existing revenues from onshore and offshore energy development. This funding would come from 50 percent of all revenues that are not otherwise allocated and deposited into the General Treasury, not exceeding $1.3 billion each year for the next five years.

The latest data on Virginia’s national park deferred maintenance backlog as of 2018 is available here.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) introduced legislation to add approximately 40 coastal acres of land to Fort Monroe National Monument, a move that would unify the two divided sections of Fort Monroe and achieve an unbroken coastline along the Chesapeake Bay. This legislation comes after the failure of the Trump Administration to accept approximately 40 acres of land from the Commonwealth of Virginia, which has offered to donate the land to the Department of Interior.

“With its rich history, Fort Monroe is unlike any other national monument. It’s uniquely positioned to tell some of our nation’s most significant stories on a compact and highly accessible site in the middle of an urban area,” said the Senators. “This legislation will finally unify Fort Monroe, from Old Point Comfort north to the end of the property, thus protecting the land’s iconic history and its recreational value on the Chesapeake Bay.”

Fort Monroe was built between 1819 and 1834 to protect the entrance to Hampton Roads. During the Civil War, Major General Benjamin Butler issued his famous "contraband decision” at Fort Monroe, ordering that escaped slaves who reached Union lines could not be returned to bondage. It was this courageous decision that earned Fort Monroe the nickname “Freedom's Fortress.”

In addition to adding approximately 40 acres of land in the eastern part of the Wherry Quarter, the Fort Monroe National Monument Land Acquisition Act would require the Secretary of the Interior to work with the Commonwealth to solve the issue of managing several non-historic buildings on the land.

“Transferring this parcel to the National Park Service will help connect and protect important natural, cultural, and historic resources at Fort Monroe. We look forward to Congress passing this important legislation.” – Matthew J. Strickler, Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources.

“We are very pleased that Senators Warner and Kaine have introduced a bill providing for the addition of 44 acres of Chesapeake Bayfront land to Fort Monroe National Monument. The addition of this critical land, to be generously donated by Virginia, will both physically unite the National Monument and permanently preserve more valuable Chesapeake Bay shoreline for the American people. This long awaited addition has been structured to minimize any additional costs for the National Park Service and will serve to increase the appeal of Fort Monroe overall, thus promoting the financial sustainability of Fort Monroe as a whole.” – Mark Perreault, President, Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park.

“We commend Senators Warner and Kaine for their efforts to strengthen Fort Monroe by uniting divided sections of the monument into a contiguous national park. As the birthplace of the Civil War-era sanctuary movement, Fort Monroe serves as a powerful touchpoint for our nation’s history in regards to slavery, the Civil War and the civil rights movement. Since the monument’s creation in 2011, NPCA and our supporters have worked diligently to connect these lands to make one united park. Thanks to their leadership, visitors to Fort Monroe National Monument will enjoy the star fort and an unbroken coastline along the Chesapeake Bay, and learn just how much Freedom’s Fortress means for our nation and the Commonwealth of Virginia.” – Theresa Pierno, President and CEO, National Parks Conservation Association.

“The partnership between the Fort Monroe Authority and the National Park Service allows for the property at Fort Monroe to be seamlessly available to the public. This additional land will unify the beaches under one property owner and guarantee the public access for all future generations.” – Glenn Oder, Executive Director, Fort Monroe Authority.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been longtime advocates of expanding Fort Monroe. In June 2018, the Senators, along with a bipartisan coalition of the Virginia Congressional Delegation, sent a letter to then-Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke requesting that the Park Service accept the Commonwealth’s land donation offer.

The full text of the bill is available here.

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WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 333-96 to approve the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, bipartisan legislation introduced in the Senate by U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) to protect horses from the abusive practice known as “soring,” in which show horse trainers intentionally apply substances or devices to horses’ limbs to make each step painful and force an exaggerated high-stepping gait rewarded in show rings. Although federal law currently prohibits soring, a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Inspector General (IG) has found that some horse trainers often go to great lengths to continue this inhumane practice.

“Horses have been a part of our Commonwealth’s history and culture since the settling of Jamestown, and like all animals, they deserve to be treated with care and compassion,” said Sen. Warner. “Now that the House has voted, on a bipartisan basis, to protect these animals from the cruel practice of inflicting deliberate suffering for show purposes, the Senate must act.”

The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act would:

  • Eliminate self-policing by requiring the USDA to assign a licensed inspector if the show's management indicates intent to hire one. Licensed or accredited veterinarians, if available, would be given preference for these positions.
  • Prohibit the use of action devices and pads on specific horse breeds that have a history of being the primary victims of soring. Action devices, such as chains that rub up and down an already-sore leg, intensify the horse's pain when it moves so that the horse quickly jolts up its leg.
  • Increase consequences on individuals caught soring a horse, including raising the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony, which is subject to up to three years' incarceration, increasing fines from $3,000 to $5,000 per violation, and permanently disqualifying three-time violators from participating in horse shows, exhibitions, sales or auctions.

The PAST Act has support from the American Horse Council, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, Humane Society Legislative Fund, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Virginia Veterinary Medical Association, among others.

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) led a bicameral letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue about the proposed relocation of the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

He was joined on the letter by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and U.S. Representatives Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), John Sarbanes (D-Md.), Anthony Brown (D-Md.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Don Beyer (D-Va.), David Trone (D-Md.), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), and Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio). 

While members continue to oppose the relocation, they have raised two specific issues with the Secretary following his conversation with Senator Van Hollen on Sunday:

·         First, it is our understanding that AFGE Local 3403 sent a letter to USDA requesting an extension of the July 15 deadline to accept or decline the employee reassignment to Kansas City.  The union issued a demand to bargain on June 18, and requested to meet on June 24 to begin bargaining. However, ERS and USDA management and labor relations officials refused to meet before July 15.  Working out some issues with the union would help to ensure more employees can make an informed decision about whether to relocate, potentially mitigating at least some of the serious damage that this move will do to the ability of these agencies to carry out their missions.  We understand that in your view, July 15 was a preliminary deadline, and that the final deadline is September 30.  Can you confirm that the deadline for employees to accept or decline reassignment to Kansas City is now September 30?

·         Second, the General Services Administration recently extended the deadline by one month for Kansas City real estate companies to submit bids to hold the future lease for the ERS and NIFA.  It is our understanding that the process of securing and building out a new space in Kansas City could take up to two years.  This predicament makes it nearly impossible for your employees to determine where they will be living, where to send their children to school, and other important decisions until they know where the final office space will be located in Kansas City.  Will you also commit to utilizing available office space and teleworking capabilities to keep your employees in the National Capital Region unless and until a final office space is completed and ready for occupancy in Kansas City? 

The full text of the letter is available below and here.

 

Dear Secretary Perdue:

We again write to express our opposition to your proposal to reorganize USDA, specifically the proposal that would relocate the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) away from the National Capital Region to Kansas City. 

These agencies are national research institutions that provide vital information on national and local issues that are critically important to farmers, families, and rural communities. In order to provide this world-class research, ERS and NIFA need to be able to coordinate with other U.S. statistical agencies as well as other stakeholders that are connected to on the ground efforts, which are headquartered in the National Capital Region. We remain concerned that this restructuring will gut the ability of these agencies to successfully carry out their important missions.  We also remain concerned that the quality of work being done at ERS and NIFA has already been undermined and will continue to degrade. 

In particular, data compiled by American Federal Government Employees Local 3403, as part of a summary of all employees, found that ERS could expect more than 4 out of 5 of its more than 200 employees and more than 90% of NIFA’s more than 300 employees to decline reassignment to the temporary offices in Kansas City, and instead seek employment elsewhere. With such a high rate of projected attrition, this move will have catastrophic impacts on the scientific capabilities of USDA, thereby hurting the farmers, families, and rural communities who benefit from the important work of these agencies. 

While we oppose entirely the relocation and will continue to work to stop this move, we write today with two principal requests on which we ask for your immediate response.

First, it is our understanding that AFGE Local 3403 sent a letter to USDA requesting an extension of the July 15 deadline to accept or decline the employee reassignment to Kansas City.  The union issued a demand to bargain on June 18, and requested to meet on June 24 to begin bargaining. However, ERS and USDA management and labor relations officials refused to meet before July 15.  Working out some issues with the union would help to ensure more employees can make an informed decision about whether to relocate, potentially mitigating at least some of the serious damage that this move will do to the ability of these agencies to carry out their missions.  We understand that in your view, July 15 was a preliminary deadline, and that the final deadline is September 30.  Can you confirm that the deadline for employees to accept or decline reassignment to Kansas City is now September 30? 

Second, the General Services Administration recently extended the deadline by one month for Kansas City real estate companies to submit bids to hold the future lease for the ERS and NIFA.  It is our understanding that the process of securing and building out a new space in Kansas City could take up to two years.  This predicament makes it nearly impossible for your employees to determine where they will be living, where to send their children to school, and other important decisions until they know where the final office space will be located in Kansas City.  Will you also commit to utilizing available office space and teleworking capabilities to keep your employees in the National Capital Region unless and until a final office space is completed and ready for occupancy in Kansas City?

We know you care deeply about improving customer service at the Department; however, customers cannot be served if there are not an adequate number of employees to get the job done.  Thank you for your prompt attention to these urgent matters that are of critical importance to our farmers, families, and rural communities.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Committee on the Budget and a leading Democratic voice when it comes to matters of debt and deficit reduction, on Friday urged the Trump Administration to back off a proposal that would change how the government calculates the federal poverty line and result in cuts to safety-net programs like Head Start, Medicaid, food stamps, and more.

Last month, the Trump Administration signaled it was considering changing the inflation rate used to calculate the federal poverty line, which is used to determine eligibility for a wide array of health and nutrition programs, including Medicaid, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the National School Lunch Program. In a “solicitation of comments,” the Office of Management and Budget contemplates shifting from the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U), to the chained Consumer Price Index (CPI) or the Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index (PCEPI), to calculate inflation and cost-of-living adjustments –  a switch that will, over time, shrink the number of Americans eligible for these congressionally-mandated programs.

“OMB’s notice came as a surprise to many given evidence that the current inflation index may not do enough to account for the expenses that dominate lower-income households’ spending or accurately reflect changes in the costs of meeting basic needs,” wrote Sen. Warner in a letter to OMB’s chief statistician. “That official estimates of minimum living costs regularly exceed the poverty line by a significant margin only casts more doubt on the prudence and rationale of OMB’s notice.”

Sen. Warner cautioned that using chained CPI to calculate the official poverty measure would force the most vulnerable families to exclusively shoulder the financial burden of any savings that may be realized.

“Prior efforts to seriously address the deficit—including the bipartisan Senate Gang of Six, of which I was a member—recommended using chained CPI when indexing various federal benefit programs. However, it did so only as part of a comprehensive deficit reduction plan that included additional tax revenue, provided important benefit improvements for programs that serve our most vulnerable, like Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and included measures to mitigate the impact on beneficiaries of means-tested programs,” concluded Sen. Warner. “This is the opposite of the OMB proposal, which would put the burden of deficit reduction on large numbers of low-income people who would lose eligibility for, or receive less help from, life-saving programs—and comes on the heels of the $1.65 trillion in decreased revenues implemented by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Accordingly, I strongly urge you to abandon consideration of this or any substantially similar proposal.”

The full text of the letter is available here and below.

 

Dr. Nancy Potok, Chief Statistician

Office of Management and Budget

725 17th Street NW

Washington, DC 20006

 

Dear Dr. Potok:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) notice regarding differences among various consumer price indexes and their influence on the estimation of the official poverty measure.

As you know, the OMB notice contemplates lowering the poverty line by applying a smaller cost-of-living adjustment each year, using either the chained Consumer Price Index (CPI) or the Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index (PCEPI) in place of the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U). OMB’s notice came as a surprise to many given evidence that the current inflation index may not do enough to account for the expenses that dominate lower-income households’ spending or accurately reflect changes in the costs of meeting basic needs. That official estimates of minimum living costs regularly exceed the poverty line by a significant margin only casts more doubt on the prudence and rationale of OMB’s notice.

Further, it would be wholly unacceptable to implement such a change without Congress’ approval. Congress has passed many pieces of legislation over the last several decades related to Medicaid, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the National School Lunch Program under the assumption that the poverty line would continue to be calculated under the current methodology. For example, Congress has based its decisions on Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analyses of how legislation would affect federal costs, the number of people with health insurance coverage, and other outcomes. CBO’s analyses assumed that the current poverty line methodology would remain in place. If the Administration were to move ahead, it would be setting federal program eligibility limits in these programs below the levels that Congress intended to set. 

Moreover, the OMB proposal asks those who can least afford it to exclusively shoulder the financial burden of any savings that may be realized. Prior efforts to seriously address the deficit—including the bipartisan Senate Gang of Six, of which I was a member—recommended using chained CPI when indexing various federal benefit programs. However, it did so only as part of a comprehensive deficit reduction plan that included additional tax revenue, provided important benefit improvements for programs that serve our most vulnerable, like Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and included measures to mitigate the impact on beneficiaries of means-tested programs. This is the opposite of the OMB proposal, which would put the burden of deficit reduction on large numbers of low-income people who would lose eligibility for, or receive less help from, life-saving programs—and comes on the heels of the $1.65 trillion in decreased revenues implemented by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Accordingly, I strongly urge you to abandon consideration of this or any substantially similar proposal.

Thank you for your willingness to consider my comments. If you would like any additional information, please contact Lauren Marshall on my staff at Lauren_Marshall@warner.senate.gov or (202) 224-2023.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) released the following statement on the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) proposal to relocate two research agencies, the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), from Washington, D.C. to Kansas City.

“USDA’s proposed relocation of the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture will unnecessarily uproot hundreds of dedicated federal employees and could negatively impact the missions of both agencies,” the Senators said. “These agencies play a critical role in setting agricultural, nutritional, and environmental policy in the U.S. Disconnecting them from other vital research agencies in the National Capital Region will undoubtedly disrupt the work they carry out and impact their ability to attract and retain highly-qualified personnel. We have introduced legislation to block this ill-conceived move and will continue to work with our colleagues to keep these agencies in the National Capital Region.”

 In May, Sens. Warner and Kaine, along with other members of Congress representing the National Capital Region, sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue urging him not to relocate ERS and NIFA. The Senators have also introduced legislation barring the research agencies from leaving the National Capital Region. In addition, Sen. Warner has placed a hold on nominee Scott Hutchins for Undersecretary for research, education, and economics at the Department of Agriculture in opposition to the proposed relocation.

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WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) released the following statement following President Trump’s announcement that, beginning on June 10, the U.S. will impose a 5 percent tariff on Mexican imports. According to the Trump Administration, if Mexico does not stop immigrants from crossing the Southwest border, tariffs could incrementally increase to 25 percent by October 1 and remain at that level until the migration stops.

“President Trump’s escalating trade war will force families to pay more on everyday items and put 133,000 trade-supported Virginia jobs at risk. What this Administration fails to understand is that, just as Trump's family separation policy failed, hiking tariffs on Mexico won’t deter families escaping violence and instability in their native countries from crossing our border,” said the Senators. “Last year, Virginians saw the impact of retaliatory tariffs imposed by Mexico after this Administration imposed damaging steel and aluminum tariffs. Mexico continues to be an important trade partner for the Commonwealth, and strong-arming our allies will only hurt Virginians without solving our immigration challenges.”

Mexico is Virginia’s sixth-largest overall agricultural export market, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS). In 2018, Mexico purchased more than $111 million in Virginia exports – a 3 percent decrease from 2017, a decline attributable in part to reckless trade and tariff Trump Administration policies. To ease the burden on Virginia businesses, manufacturers and consumers, Sen. Warner introduced and Sen. Kaine cosponsored bipartisan legislation that would restore Congress’ constitutional trade responsibilities. Sen. Kaine has also introduced legislation to limit the Trump Administration’s ability to levy tariffs without Congress.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been vocal about the economic effect of the Trump Administration’s haphazard approach on tariffs.  In April, the Senators slammed President Trump after threatening – and later walking back – his threat to close the U.S.-Mexico border.  To tackle the root causes of migration, the Senators introduced legislation to provide a coordinated response to the humanitarian crisis in the Northern Triangle countries that have forced families to seek refuge in the U.S. They have also urged the Trump Administration to reverse its plan to cut national security funding to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. 

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced the Agriculture Research Integrity Act, which would bar the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from reorganizing and moving the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Economic Research Service (ERS) out of the National Capital Region. Experts agree that Secretary Perdue’s proposal would undermine their effectiveness and relevance, and the rank-and-file staff opposes the move – just yesterday, it was reported that federal employees at both agencies “have quit in unusually large numbers” since the Secretary announced he would relocate the offices.

“The proposed relocation of the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture from the National Capital Region could severely impact the ability of these agencies to carry out their critical research missions,” said Senator Warner. “These agencies provide invaluable research that drives agricultural, nutritional, and environmental policy in the U.S. Removing these agencies from the National Capital Region would negatively impact their work by disconnecting them from other vital research agencies located in the region and could impact their ability to attract and retain highly-qualified personnel.”

“The experts at NIFA and ERS conduct the scientific research that helps grow the food our families eat. They need a seat at the table with decision makers,” said Senator Van Hollen. “This proposed move – coupled with other efforts to undermine their work – is part of a broader effort by the Trump Administration to banish facts and science from policy decisions. We are committed to fighting it tooth and nail.” 

“Once again, the Trump Administration is seeking to marginalize scientists and independent research, choosing to scatter federal employees and potentially politicize what has historically been the work of nonpartisan civil servants,” said Senator Cardin. “With this bill, Congress has an opportunity to show it’s respect for our federal workforce and their work in advancing agriculture, food, the environment, and rural America on behalf of all Americans.” 

“USDA is proposing to uproot more than 700 hardworking federal employees from the National Capital Region with no cost/benefit analysis and no obvious public benefit. These federal workers will be forced to sell their homes, take their kids out of school, and move across the country to a location to be determined. This suspicious process is currently under investigation by the USDA Inspector General. Until USDA gives Congress and its own employees some straight answers, this move should be stopped,” said Senator Kaine. 

“The National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Economic Research Service carry out vital science and research missions that our nation’s farmers, consumers, and lawmakers rely on.  Uprooting those agencies and their staffs would undermine those missions.  That would be a ‘solution’ to a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Senator Leahy.

“The National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Economic Research Service play a critical role in ensuring that our agriculture industry remains a global leader and can meet the needs of American families for generations to come,” said Senator Merkley. “There is no reason why taxpayer money should be wasted on moving these research facilities hundreds of miles away, far from the officials who make sure their findings are honest and not influenced by politics or food manufacturers. I’m urging all of my colleagues in Congress to protect the future of American agriculture by saying no to any plan to move these essential agencies.”

“We rely on these workers to provide quality research about our food, our farming and our rural economy, and they deserve a say in this process. Uprooting families and workers is a bad idea that undermines productivity,” said Senator Brown.    

“U.S. farmers face constant uncertainty – not least of which comes from the extreme weather variability brought on by a changing climate. Secretary Perdue has added fuel to the uncertainty by proposing to uproot, reorganize, and ultimately gut two research agencies essential to the stability of a productive and sustainable food system. Since the Trump administration has been unable to provide evidence of how this move will benefit farmers, eaters, and the public interest, Congress must stop the reorganization and relocation. We thank Senator Van Hollen for leading the way,” said Rebecca Boehm, an economist for Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food and Environment program

“Under the Trump administration, the USDA is suppressing the publication of scientific research that ERS employees conduct and has proposed upending employees’ lives by relocating the agency outside the nation’s capital,” said American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. “Just like we have been standing up and fighting back against numerous other anti-worker proposals from the Trump Administration, we will join the employees at ERS and NIFA in fighting against efforts to relocate them and politicize their research. AFGE thanks Senator Van Hollen for introducing this important legislation that will aid in our fight for fairness for these federal workers.” 

“The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the farmers we represent from all regions of the country applaud the sponsors for introducing this bill.  We believe that nothing less than the future of public agricultural research and objective, policy-relevant economic analysis is at stake.  We encourage the Senate to follow the House lead and prohibit the misguided, unauthorized, and unfunded effort to move and undermine NIFA and ERS,” said Nichelle Harriott, Policy Specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC).

The House companion bill has been introduced by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and language prohibiting the ERS and NIFA move was included in the House Agriculture funding bill released yesterday. 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) released the following statement after President Trump escalated the ongoing U.S. - China trade war by imposing a 25 percent tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese exports. In retaliation, China announced that it is raising tariffs on $60 billion of U.S. products beginning on June 1.

“It’s been more than a year since President Trump first launched a haphazard, ill-planned trade war with China that raised taxes on a number of Virginia commodities. The escalation means continued uncertainty for Virginia’s soybean farmers, who continue to brace for the worst every time the word ‘tariffs’ is said in the Oval Office. With the Trump Administration slapping China with additional tariffs and China planning to hit the U.S. right back, there seems to be no solution in sight,” said the Senators. “It’s one thing to be tough on China’s unfair and illegal trade practices, but the longer this disastrous lack of a strategy continues, the more it’ll cost and the more of an impact it will have on Virginians’ bank accounts.” 

Sens. Warner and Kaine have raised concerns about how President Trump’s ongoing trade war could hurt Virginia businesses and families. According to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), China is Virginia’s number one agricultural export market for soybeans. In 2018, Virginia exported more than $58 million soybean products to China – an 83 percent decrease from 2017.

 

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