Press Releases

WASHINGTON – Following a January announcement by the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DoL) Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) launching a Miner Vaccine Outreach Program to deliver free vaccinations and provide educational outreach to mining communities in Kentucky and Arizona, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) are calling on the DoL to include Southwest Virginia in the plans.

In a letter to the MSHA, the senators highlighted that while the Commonwealth has a high vaccination rate as a whole, many mining counties in Southwest Virginia are vaccinated at much lower rates and would greatly benefit from increased vaccination efforts.

“Virginia’s counties vary widely in terms of vaccinations rates, and mining communities in Southwest Virginia are quite similar to the neighboring counties in Kentucky that the Miner Vaccine Outreach Program is serving. In Virginia, mining communities are centered in Dickenson, Buchanan, Wise, Tazewell, Lee, and Russell counties, where the adult population has a fully-vaccinated rate of less than 57%. It is clear that these communities are in critical need of targeted outreach to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates,” the senators wrote.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been leaders in the push to get Virginians vaccinated during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes securing $8.8 million in federal funding to support the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

In addition, Sens. Warner and Kaine strongly supported the passage of the American Rescue Plan, which included $7.5 billion in funding for the CDC and public health departments to expand vaccine distribution and administration.

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Acting Assistant Secretary Galanis:

Thank you for your work to provide safety protections and health services to our miners in Virginia and nationwide. As the Biden administration continues to ramp up efforts to get more Americans vaccinated, we are writing to request that the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) expand its newly launched Miner Vaccine Outreach Program into Southwest Virginia mining communities.

On January 25, 2022, the Department of Labor announced MSHA’s Miner Vaccine Outreach Program to deliver free COVID-19 vaccinations and provide educational outreach to mining communities. In selecting Kentucky and Arizona, MSHA notes the “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that vaccination rates are below 60 percent in two states where a substantial number of mining operations exist.”

Mining communities in Virginia are seeing similar challenges increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates. Virginia’s counties vary widely in terms of vaccinations rates, and mining communities in Southwest Virginia are quite similar to the neighboring counties in Kentucky that the Miner Vaccine Outreach Program is serving. In Virginia, mining communities are centered in Dickenson, Buchanan, Wise, Tazewell, Lee, and Russell counties, where the adult population has a fully-vaccinated rate of less than 57%. It is clear that these communities are in critical need of targeted outreach to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates.  

Miners have been essential workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and MSHA’s Miner Vaccine Outreach Program is one critical way to support their health and safety. We urge you to expand this program into Southwest Virginia so that coal miners there receive the medical services and support they need and deserve. Thank you for the consideration of our request.

Sincerely,

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), chairman of the committee, today called on the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to require companies to report on how many workers they employ who are not classified as full-time employees, including independent and subcontracted workers.

“We believe that the disclosure of this data is critical to fully capture companies’ human capital management. We applaud the SEC for focusing on strengthening human capital disclosures as part of its regulatory agenda,” wrote the senators in a letter to SEC Chairman Gary Gensler. “It is clear that investors need more information to understand how companies treat people, the most critical asset of any company. We agree that investors need disclosures that include quantifiable and comparable datasets that clearly articulate a company’s human capital management, such as metrics on turnover, skills and development training, compensation, benefits, workforce demographic, and health and safety… That picture would be wholly incomplete, however, if companies are not required to disclose information about the number of independent contractors they use on a regular basis and the entire workforce that is material to their business strategy.”

Examples of subcontracted out workers considered part of the material workforce include security personnel, janitors, food service workers, housekeepers for hotels and lodging real estate investment trusts (REIT), and custodial workers.

“In recent decades, companies have replaced in-house operations with contracting, on-demand work, or other forms of independent and contracted work that lower short-term costs for the business but come at the expense of workers, who receive fewer benefits, lower wages, and have less upward mobility within the organization. This is one of the defining tensions that has emerged as companies have prioritized short-term profits at the expense of investments in their workforce and long-term productivity. As you know, these decisions have material effects on a business’ financial performance,” the senators noted.

Concluded the senators, “We appreciate the SEC is working towards the shared goal of ensuring that investors and shareholders have the information they need to understand companies’ human capital management, a critical piece of understanding a company’s performance as well as potential long-term, systemic risks to the U.S. economy. We urge you to ensure that future SEC rulemaking captures this long-term trend of companies’ increasing use of outsourcing, independent contractors, and subcontracting, which will be a critical data point in understanding companies’ human capital management.”

Sen. Warner, a former entrepreneur and venture capitalist, has long stressed the importance of updating human capital disclosure requirements to reflect the priorities of modern companies. In May, Sen. Warner introduced the Workforce Investment Disclosure Act, which would require public companies to disclose basic human capital metrics, including workforce turnover rates, skills and development training, workforce health and safety, workforce engagement, and compensation statistics.

A full copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Chairman Gensler:

We are writing to urge the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to ensure that, as part of its agenda to improve human capital disclosure, companies report on the numbers of their workers who are not classified as full-time employees, including independent contractors, as well as the entire workforce that is material to the company and its investors (the “material workforce”) such as subcontracted workers. We believe that the disclosure of this data is critical to fully capture companies’ human capital management.

We applaud the SEC for focusing on strengthening human capital disclosures as part of its regulatory agenda. It is clear that investors need more information to understand how companies treat people, the most critical asset of any company. We agree that investors need disclosures that include quantifiable and comparable datasets that clearly articulate a company’s human capital management, such as metrics on turnover, skills and development training, compensation, benefits, workforce demographic, and health and safety. As you have indicated in prior remarks, “Large and small investors, representing literally tens of trillions of dollars, are looking for consistent, comparable, and decision-useful disclosures in these areas to determine whether to invest, sell, or make a voting decision one way or another.”

That picture would be wholly incomplete, however, if companies are not required to disclose information about the number of independent contractors they use on a regular basis and the entire workforce that is material to their business strategy. Examples of subcontracted out workers that should be considered part of the material workforce include security personnel, janitors, food service workers, housekeepers for hotels and lodging real estate investment trusts (REIT), and custodial workers. In recent decades, companies have replaced in-house operations with contracting, on-demand work, or other forms of independent and contracted work that lower short-term costs for the business but come at the expense of workers, who receive fewer benefits, lower wages, and have less upward mobility within the organization. This is one of the defining tensions that has emerged as companies have prioritized short-term profits at the expense of investments in their workforce and long-term productivity. As you know, these decisions have material effects on a business’ financial performance. 

We appreciate the SEC is working towards the shared goal of ensuring that investors and shareholders have the information they need to understand companies’ human capital management, a critical piece of understanding a company’s performance as well as potential long-term, systemic risks to the U.S. economy. We urge you to ensure that future SEC rulemaking captures this long-term trend of companies’ increasing use of outsourcing, independent contractors, and subcontracting, which will be a critical data point in understanding companies’ human capital management. 

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

WASHINGTON – Today, as the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing begin, Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Rick Scott (R-FL) led their colleagues to introduce a bipartisan resolution calling on the Chinese Communist Party to guarantee the safety and freedom of tennis star Peng Shuai, and rebuking the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for its failure to clearly and forcefully challenge the Chinese Communist Party’s claims about Peng Shuai’s safety. The resolution was cosponsored by Senators Shelly Moore Capito, Sherrod Brown, John Hoeven, Ron Wyden, Ted Cruz, Jeff Merkley, Mike Braun, Chris Van Hollen, Marsha Blackburn, Bob Casey, Tom Cotton, Raphael Warnock, Ron Johnson and Jeanne Shaheen.

A companion resolution led by Congressman Michael Waltz and Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton unanimously passed the U.S. House of Representatives in December 2021.

Senator Mark Warner said, “The disappearance and silencing of Peng Shuai, following her allegations of sexual assault, serve as a disturbing reminder of the countless human rights abuses by the Chinese Communist Party. The International Olympic Committee’s unwillingness to clearly and forcefully stand up to the CCP and call for independent assurance into the safety and freedom of Peng Shuai strongly suggests that the committee is willing to prioritize a relationship with China over athlete well-being. As the Olympic Games get underway, we must not turn a blind eye towards the disturbing human rights abuses by the CCP, and the IOC must join the broader diplomatic push for the freedom and well-being of Peng Shuai.” 

Senator Rick Scott said, “The recent disappearance of Peng Shuai has shocked the world and exposed the disturbing lack of basic rights and human decency experienced by the Chinese people at the hand of General Secretary Xi’s ruthless communist regime. No one, especially the IOC, should ignore what happened to Peng Shuai or attempt to move past this horrifying incident simply to avoid confrontation with Communist China. This bipartisan resolution, which has already unanimously passed the House, makes clear that the United States will not tolerate these kind of gross abuses and continues to stand for freedom for all people. I’m thankful for all of my colleagues’ support on this resolution, and I look forward to its quick passage in the Senate.”

###

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement today:

“It’s only a matter of when, not if, we face another widespread cyber breach that threatens our national security. I was glad to see this NTSB-like function included in the President’s May 2020 executive order on cybersecurity, and this is a good first step to establishing such a capability.  I look forward to monitoring how this board develops over the coming months.”

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, released the below statement following a hearing on the nominations of the Honorable Sarah Bloom Raskin for Federal Reserve Vice Chair for Supervision and Dr. Lisa Cook and Dr. Philip Jefferson for Governors of the Federal Reserve:

“As our economy continues to recover, we need leaders at the Federal Reserve who will ensure stability in our central banking system and work to combat the effects of inflation driven by challenges in the global supply chain. Sarah Bloom Raskin, Lisa Cook and Philip Jefferson have long and varied experiences that make them ideal nominees for the Federal Reserve and I look forward working with them to make sure our economic recovery lifts up all of our communities.”

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement today:

“Nothing is more important than ensuring that we protect and care for those individuals who risk their lives on our behalf. As we seek to understand the source and causes of these anomalous health incidents (AHIs), I welcome the findings and recommendations of the outside experts assembled by the intelligence community. I am glad that the Biden administration has been treating this issue with the seriousness it deserves, and has moved to implement the provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 requiring a point person to be appointed at each relevant agency to coordinate the government’s efforts to address this challenge. Today’s findings underscore the need to continue investigating the source of these symptoms, and prioritizing access to care for those suffering from these medical conditions.”

###

 

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the below statement on the bomb threats against historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs):

“I am deeply disturbed by the bomb threats that have been made against more than a dozen historically Black colleges and universities. These acts of attempted terror, issued as we enter Black History Month, underscore the alarming reality that racially-motivated violence and extremism is on the rise across the country. Although at this time no explosive devices have been found, FBI and their local law enforcement partners are taking these hate crimes extremely seriously. As Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I have requested and expect to receive a briefing at the appropriate time, and I remain committed to combatting extremism and hate violence in all of its forms.”

###

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined a bipartisan and bicameral group of lawmakers in calling for the extension of expanded coverage of telehealth services to be included in must-pass legislation in February. Provisions from the CONNECT for Health Act, reintroduced by Sen. Warner in April 2021, were included in previous COVID-19 relief legislation to allow Medicare beneficiaries to utilize telehealth services and to expand the types of health care providers eligible to provide telehealth. However, these provisions will expire following the pandemic unless congressional leaders act to extend those measures or make them permanent.

“We strongly support permanently expanding Medicare coverage of telehealth and removing other barriers to the use of telehealth because of its ability to expand access to care, reduce costs, and improve health outcomes. While Congress prepares to enact permanent telehealth legislation, we urge you to include an extension of the pandemic telehealth authorities in must-pass government funding legislation in February,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

Sen. Warner was an original co-sponsor of the 2016 Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act and has been a longtime advocate for the expansion of telehealth in order to ease access to healthcare. In June 2020, Sen. Warner called for the permanent expansion of telehealth services in a letter to congressional leadership. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Sen. Warner included a provision to expand telehealth services for substance abuse treatment in the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018. In 2003, then-Gov. Warner expanded Medicaid coverage for telemedicine statewide, including evaluation and management visits, a range of individual psychotherapies, the full range of consultations, and some clinical services, including in cardiology and obstetrics. Coverage was also expanded to include non-physician providers. Among other benefits, the telehealth expansion allowed individuals in medically underserved and remote areas of Virginia to access quality specialty care that isn’t always available at home.

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letter was also signed by U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Jon Tester (D-MT), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Angus King (I-ME), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY.), Tina Smith (D-MN), Rob Portman (R-OH), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), John Boozman (R-AR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM) Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and U.S. Representatives Mike Thompson (D-CA), David Schweikert (R-AZ), Bill Johnson (R-OH), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT), James Langevin (D-RI), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Don Bacon (R-NE), and Michael Guest (R-MS).

A full copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Majority Leader Schumer, Minority Leader McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, and Minority Leader McCarthy:

Telehealth has been a critical tool during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that patients continue to receive the health care they need while keeping health care providers and patients safe.  Congress recognized the importance of telehealth and included provisions in COVID-19 legislation to increase access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries during the pandemic.  We strongly support permanently expanding Medicare coverage of telehealth and removing other barriers to the use of telehealth because of its ability to expand access to care, reduce costs, and improve health outcomes.  While Congress prepares to enact permanent telehealth legislation, we urge you to include an extension of the pandemic telehealth authorities in must-pass government funding legislation in February.  

An extension to maintain expanded coverage of Medicare telehealth services for a set period of time would provide much-needed certainty to health care providers and patients.  Ramping up telehealth requires significant costs and resources from health care providers. However, the pandemic telehealth authorities are temporary and tied to the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, which is renewed in three-month increments.  Without more definitive knowledge about the duration of the pandemic and Medicare’s long-term coverage of telehealth, many organizations have been hesitant to fully invest in telehealth.  An extension of the telehealth authorities would provide assurance that the investments will be sustainable over the long term.  It would also reassure patients that their care will not end abruptly. 

In addition, since the use of telehealth in Medicare was very low before the pandemic, an extension would provide additional time to collect and analyze data on the impacts of telehealth.  This data could help inform Congress’s next steps on permanent telehealth legislation and appropriate program integrity and beneficiary protections.  In the meantime, it is crucial that an extension not include unnecessary statutory barriers in accessing telehealth services during this data collection and analysis period. 

Telehealth has become an essential part of the health care system.  The permanent telehealth reforms included in the CONNECT for Health Act, which has bipartisan support from over 170 members of Congress, as well as other telehealth bills, are imperative to increase access to care, reduce costs, and improve health outcomes.  In February, Congress should extend the authorities that have expanded coverage of telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to maintain access to telehealth and provide necessary certainty for Medicare telehealth coverage. 

We appreciate your collaboration on this important issue.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), and 212 colleagues in a bipartisan, bicameral letter calling on the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to provide penalty relief for taxpayers and help reduce processing backlogs at the IRS, after hearing from Virginians who are still waiting on their refunds from the 2021 filing season. Taxpayers may qualify for relief from penalties if they made an effort to comply with legal requirements but weren’t able to meet their tax obligations due to circumstances beyond their control, including processing backlogs. The lawmakers noted the delayed processing of amended returns has been particularly devastating to small businesses whose applications for emergency loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA) have been caught in limbo nearly two years after the pandemic began.

“While the COVID-19 pandemic has strained every federal agency, the impact on the IRS has been particularly severe,” wrote the lawmakers. “As of December 23, 2021, the IRS continued to have a backlog of 6 million Forms 1040 (Individual Income Tax Returns) and 2.3 million amended individual tax returns. In addition, the IRS has 2 million Forms 941 (Employer Quarterly Tax Returns) that must be processed before the nearly 500,000 amended Forms 941 can be processed.”

“Recognizing the extraordinary challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the IRS operating with antiquated technology and a constrained budget, we find the current situation alarming. We stand ready to support the IRS and look forward to hearing how we can help you address any obstacles facing the agency,” the lawmakers added. “However, we respectfully request the IRS consider the following measures to bring immediate relief to taxpayers, and reduce the backlog, during this tax filing season. ...While we recognize no single action will alleviate issues that have resulted from difficulties at the IRS spanning administrations of both political parties, these steps would provide our constituents with greater certainty as we enter this year’s filing season.”

Last week, Senator Warner raised concerns with the IRS after hearing from Virginians who are still waiting on their refunds from the 2020 filing season, following a February 2021 letter addressing the same issue of persistent processing delays at the IRS. As members of the Senate Budget Committee, Senators Warner and Kaine are currently pushing for legislation to substantially increase funding for the IRS and help the agency improve operations in the long term.

In addition to Sens. Warner, Kaine, Menendez, and Cassidy, the letter was signed by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chris Coons (D-DE), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

This effort is supported by the Tax Professionals United for Taxpayer Relief Coalition, which includes the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA), Padgett Business Services, H&R Block, Latino Tax Professional Association, National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP), National Society of Tax Professionals (NSTP), National Society of Accountants (NSA), National Society of Black Certified Public Accountants (NSBCPA), National Conference of CPA Practitioners (NCCPAP), Diverse Organization of Firms Advocacy Committee, National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), and Prosperity Now.

Full text of the letter can be found here and below. 

Dear Secretary Yellen and Commissioner Rettig,

As the 2022 tax filing season fast approaches, we are concerned about the unprecedented challenges facing the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the ongoing impact on our constituents. While the COVID-19 pandemic has strained every federal agency, the impact on the IRS has been particularly severe. As of December 23, 2021, the IRS continued to have a backlog of 6 million Forms 1040 (Individual Income Tax Returns) and 2.3 million amended individual tax returns.  In addition, the IRS has 2 million Forms 941 (Employer Quarterly Tax Returns) that must be processed before the nearly 500,000 amended Forms 941 can be processed.

In many cases, the delayed processing of amended returns has been devastating to small businesses in our communities whose applications for emergency loans from the Small Business Administration have been caught in limbo nearly two years after the COVID-19 pandemic began. The situation has deteriorated to a point that the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) will no longer accept cases solely involving the processing of amended returns] This has made it impossible for frustrated taxpayers to find any help.  When our constituents cannot get assistance from the IRS and TAS, they contact us, and we have our hands tied at this point as well. 

Recognizing the extraordinary challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the IRS operating with antiquated technology and a constrained budget, we find the current situation alarming. We stand ready to support the IRS and look forward to hearing how we can help you address any obstacles facing the agency. However, we respectfully request the IRS consider the following measures to bring immediate relief to taxpayers, and reduce the backlog, during this tax filing season:

  • Halt automated collections from now until at least 90 days after April 18, 2022;
  • Delay the collection process for filers until any active and pending penalty abatement requests have been processed;
  • Streamline the reasonable cause penalty abatement process for taxpayers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic without the need for written correspondence; 
  • Provide targeted tax penalty relief for taxpayers who paid at least 70 percent of the tax due for the 2020 and 2021 tax year; and
  • Expedite processing of amended returns and provide TAS and congressional caseworkers with timely responses.

While we recognize no single action will alleviate issues that have resulted from difficulties at the IRS spanning administrations of both political parties, these steps would provide our constituents with greater certainty as we enter this year’s filing season. Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter and the dedication of the IRS and Treasury personnel to improving the filing process in these extraordinary times.

Sincerely,

 

###

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $971,639 in federal funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) awarded to the Economic Development Authority of Floyd County to develop the Floyd Regional Commerce Center. The funds will be used to construct an access road, an industrial cul-de-sac, and a pedestrian and bike path that will stimulate economic growth and support the creation of an estimated 130 new jobs in the region.

“We’re pleased to see Floyd County receive this additional federal resource to finish construction of a new access road,” said the Senators. “This funding will create good-paying jobs and bolster economic development in the region.”

This funding is in addition to the more than $1 million in federal assistance that Sens. Warner and Kaine announced in September 2017. VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) are administering the project.

In August, Sen. Kaine visited the Floyd Innovation Center to learn more about their work to support entrepreneurs and growth-oriented businesses including in specialty foods and other products. He also gathered feedback on how he can help support small businesses at the federal level.

ARC is an economic development partnership agency of the federal government and 13 state governments, including Virginia, aimed at investing in community capacity and strengthening economic growth in the Appalachian region. In Fiscal Year 2020, ARC supported 42 projects totaling $11.1 million and created or retained 4,600 jobs in Virginia.

###

WASHINGTON – Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined 16 senators in calling on the Social Security Administration (SSA) to provide an update on its efforts to improve field office services for beneficiaries amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“SSA has a responsibility and a duty to provide timely and quality service to the public, whether it is provided online, via telephone, or in-person,” the senators wrote. “COVID-19 has amplified and exacerbated gaps in service for all. We write to request an update on the Social Security Administration’s efforts to improve service delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic, and efforts to modernize its business processes going forward.” 

In the letter, sent to Acting Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi, the senators called on the agency to outline the steps it is taking to ensure those who need in-person service are able to receive it, including details on the appointment system and drop boxes for original documents that need to be reviewed. Last week, SSA announced an agreement with labor unions representing the agency’s workforce about a reentry plan beginning as early as March 30th.

The letter also noted the substantial dip in applications for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and asked the agency how they are working to address this shortfall.

Sen. Warner has pushed the SSA to continue assisting beneficiaries in an effective manner since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In an April 2021 Senate Finance Committee hearing, Sen. Warner highlighted the need for SSA to conduct outreach to vulnerable populations to ensure they are being served in the midst of the pandemic.

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letter was signed by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bob Casey (D-PA) Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Acting Commissioner Kijakazi:

We write to request an update on the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) efforts to improve service delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic, and efforts to modernize its business processes going forward.

In March 2020, SSA took the unprecedented—and necessary—step to close its 1,230 field offices and shift the agency’s operations to a nearly 100 percent remote environment. Since then, your employees have done a tremendous job quickly adapting to the new environment and continuing to serve the public and should be commended.

With COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations soaring to their highest recorded levels due to the Omicron variant, we support the agency’s efforts to prioritize the safety and well-being of the public and the Agency’s staff, especially those who are immunocompromised, as it finalizes the phased reentry plan. That said, SSA has a responsibility and a duty to provide timely and quality service to the public, whether it is provided online, via telephone, or in-person.

As you know, nearly 70 million people rely on Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits to pay for rent, groceries, medical bills, and other essential expenses. Additionally, over 45 million people visit SSA’s 1,230 field offices every year to file for benefits, make changes to their earnings record, and get guidance from SSA’s experienced staff. An incorrect denial of benefits or inaccurate payment can be the difference between a beneficiary having a home or being evicted, or whether or not they can afford their prescription drugs. A recent Washington Post article illuminated the devastating impacts that poor service delivery can have on vulnerable populations. Further, a November 2021 SSA Inspector General report found that nearly half of the 151 million callers to field offices and the national 800-number went unanswered, including 16.4 million callers who gave up while waiting in the queue. Many of these service issues have persisted long before the pandemic, but COVID-19 has amplified and exasperated these gaps in service for all, particularly for those whose sole source of income is Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or both.

When you started the job as Acting Commissioner six months ago, your goals were ensuring everyone who is eligible for benefits should receive them and that SSA must treat employees fairly and equitably. Both the Finance Committee and Special Committee on Aging have been concerned about access to Agency services and want to support responsive, effective and accurate information about Agency programs. The April 2021 Finance Committee hearing highlighted many of the challenges our constituents encounter when interacting with Social Security, and discussed possibilities to rethink SSA’s application process and other services.

Chairman Wyden noted at the outset of the hearing, “making smart improvements to Social Security based on the experience of COVID-19 can pay off big in the future.”

With that in mind, we request a response to the following questions about SSA’s efforts to improve service delivery, no later than February 17, 2022:

Field Office Service Delivery

1. How will you ensure people who need in-person assistance receive service? Is SSA tracking the number of requests for in-person appointments and what percentage of those requests have been granted; if so, what are the results and how do they vary across regions and field offices? What challenges does SSA face in providing face-to-face services and how will you overcome those challenges?

2. As noted in SSA’s COVID-19 Workplace Safety Plan , field office access is restricted to the public by appointment only “for critical services that [SSA] cannot handle remotely.” However, SSA’s procedures for an individual to secure an in-person appointment appears to favor those who have reliable telephone or Internet access, leaving out at-risk groups. What is SSA doing to ensuring equitable access to in-person appointments?

3. The recent Washington Post article reported that one field office limited drop box hours to just one hour per day. Are such limited hours for drop boxes a common practice at field offices and, if so, what steps are being taken to increase available hours in those field offices? Further, individuals who need to drop off original documents at SSA have to call the field office to find out the office’s drop box hours. Are there plans to publish field offices’ drop box hours online or on its automated messaging system so individuals do not have to wait on hold to find out a relatively simple request, and SSA does not have to divert resources to respond to each call?

4. How is SSA reducing the need for hands-on review of documents (e.g., driver’s licenses, immigration documents, birth certificates, and passports), such as adding features to my Social Security and data sharing with other state and federal agencies?

SSDI and SSI Benefits

5. SSDI and SSI benefit applications dipped substantially during the pandemic. State Disability Determination Services received nearly 16 percent fewer SSDI and SSI initial claims during the COVID-19 pandemic than the prior year. What new efforts are SSA using to increase outreach to eligible groups, including homeless individuals, seniors, children with disabilities, and adults with disabilities?

6. At the Finance Committee hearing, Members and witnesses noted the length and the complexity of the SSI application, stretching over 30 pages. At the request of Chairman Wyden, SSA submitted a plan to simplify the SSI application process and make it more accessible. Please provide an update on SSA’s progress on simplifying the application and creating an online version of it (or an online option to express intent to file and protect the filing date).

7. We are deeply concerned about the large and growing backlog of cases at the initial and reconsideration levels pending at state agencies, and increased delays in applications and appeals being sent from field offices and Workload Support Units to state agencies. What are SSA’s plans to ensure timely and accurate decisions are provided to disability claimants?

8. Is SSA tracking the time to effectuate disability decisions (from favorable decision until retroactive and continuing benefits are provided to claimants)? If so, what trends have you witnessed in recent years, what types of cases are the most challenging to effectuate, and what goals do you have for improving the effectuation process? If not, why, and does SSA have any plans to study this metric?

Improving Service Delivery Going Forward

9. Advocacy groups, non-profit organizations, and claimant representatives are a valuable resource to communicate policy and process changes, as well as provide a “front line” perspective to help develop strategies to improve customer service. What is SSA doing to keep them apprised of policy or process changes? How is SSA leveraging their knowledge and expertise to improve service?

10. Under the previous Administration, SSA implemented Executive Orders to reduce the influence of employee unions and labor-management relations suffered. What steps have you taken to restore the relationship between the agency and the unions? What efforts have you made to work with the unions to return employees to the office?

We look forward to working with you to meet the needs of Social Security beneficiaries, SSI recipients, and all those who use SSA’s services.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner today joined a bipartisan, bicameral group of colleagues in calling on the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to provide penalty relief for taxpayers amid extensive, ongoing processing backlogs at the IRS. The House version of the letter was led by U.S. Representatives Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.-38), Darin LaHood (R-Ill.-18), Richard Neal (D-Mass.-01), Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.-16), Mike Thompson (D-Calif.-05), Tom Rice (R-S.C.-07), Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.-09), Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.-03), Judy Chu (D-Calif.-27), and Ron Estes (R-Kan.-04).

“While the COVID-19 pandemic has strained every federal agency, the impact on the IRS has been particularly severe,” wrote the group of lawmakers to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig. “As of December 23, 2021, the IRS continued to have a backlog of 6 million Forms 1040 (Individual Income Tax Returns) and 2.3 million amended individual tax returns. In addition, the IRS has 2 million Forms 941 (Employer Quarterly Tax Returns) that must be processed before the nearly 500,000 amended Forms 941 can be processed.”

The lawmakers noted the delayed processing of amended returns has been particularly devastating to small businesses whose applications for emergency loans from the Small Business Administration have been caught in limbo nearly two years after the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“Recognizing the extraordinary challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the IRS operating with antiquated technology and a constrained budget, we find the current situation alarming. We stand ready to support the IRS and look forward to hearing how we can help you address any obstacles facing the agency. However, we respectfully request the IRS consider the following measures to bring immediate relief to taxpayers, and reduce the backlog, during this tax filing season,” the lawmakers added. “...While we recognize no single action will alleviate issues that have resulted from difficulties at the IRS spanning administrations of both political parties, these steps would provide our constituents with greater certainty as we enter this year’s filing season.”

This effort is supported by the Tax Professionals United for Taxpayer Relief Coalition, which includes the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA), Padgett Business Services, H&R Block, Latino Tax Professional Association, National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP), National Society of Tax Professionals (NSTP), National Society of Accountants (NSA), National Society of Black Certified Public Accountants (NSBCPA), National Conference of CPA Practitioners (NCCPAP), Diverse Organization of Firms Advocacy Committee, National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), and Prosperity Now.

“The Tax Professionals United for Taxpayer Relief Coalition is grateful to Senators Menendez and Cassidy and the 214 Members of Congress for their leadership towards making this tax filing season a little easier for taxpayers and practitioners. The Coalition represents millions of taxpayers from diverse backgrounds, including those representing Latinos, African Americans, small businesses and low-income taxpayers – Senators Menendez and Cassidy and their colleagues are fighting for these taxpayers. Together, we aim to reduce contact with an agency under strain. We ask that the IRS heed the unified voice of our stakeholder coalition and Members of Congress to grant taxpayers relief now.”  

Full text of the letter is available here and below. 

Dear Secretary Yellen and Commissioner Rettig,

As the 2022 tax filing season fast approaches, we are concerned about the unprecedented challenges facing the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the ongoing impact on our constituents. While the COVID-19 pandemic has strained every federal agency, the impact on the IRS has been particularly severe. As of December 23, 2021, the IRS continued to have a backlog of 6 million Forms 1040 (Individual Income Tax Returns) and 2.3 million amended individual tax returns.  In addition, the IRS has 2 million Forms 941 (Employer Quarterly Tax Returns) that must be processed before the nearly 500,000 amended Forms 941 can be processed.

In many cases, the delayed processing of amended returns has been devastating to small businesses in our communities whose applications for emergency loans from the Small Business Administration have been caught in limbo nearly two years after the COVID-19 pandemic began. The situation has deteriorated to a point that the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) will no longer accept cases solely involving the processing of amended returns. This has made it impossible for frustrated taxpayers to find any help.  When our constituents cannot get assistance from the IRS and TAS, they contact us, and we have our hands tied at this point as well. 

Recognizing the extraordinary challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the IRS operating with antiquated technology and a constrained budget, we find the current situation alarming. We stand ready to support the IRS and look forward to hearing how we can help you address any obstacles facing the agency. However, we respectfully request the IRS consider the following measures to bring immediate relief to taxpayers, and reduce the backlog, during this tax filing season:

  • Halt automated collections from now until at least 90 days after April 18, 2022;
  • Delay the collection process for filers until any active and pending penalty abatement requests have been processed;
  • Streamline the reasonable cause penalty abatement process for taxpayers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic without the need for written correspondence; 
  • Provide targeted tax penalty relief for taxpayers who paid at least 70 percent of the tax due for the 2020 and 2021 tax year; and
  • Expedite processing of amended returns and provide TAS and congressional caseworkers with timely responses.

While we recognize no single action will alleviate issues that have resulted from difficulties at the IRS spanning administrations of both political parties, these steps would provide our constituents with greater certainty as we enter this year’s filing season. Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter and the dedication of the IRS and Treasury personnel to improving the filing process in these extraordinary times.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) issued the following statement today on the planned retirement of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer: 

“I am very grateful to Associate Justice Stephen Breyer for his nearly 30 years of service on the Supreme Court. With a distinguished career rooted in public service, Associate Justice Breyer stands as a model for young people all across America who seek to strengthen democracy. I trust that President Biden will carefully select a nominee to replace Associate Justice Breyer, and I look forward to closely reviewing the nominee’s qualifications and experience.”

###

WASHINGTON – Following a recent $65 million settlement between the U.S. government and Balfour Beatty Communities (BBC) LLC, a privatized military housing provider that pled guilty to fraudulent business practices, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined 16 Democratic Senators in a new oversight effort to protect the nation’s servicemembers from unsanitary, unsafe living conditions at military base housing operated by BBC, as well as by other privatized housing companies. 

In a letter to the Department of Defense, the Senators requested information regarding the management and oversight of long-term military housing contracts following the guilty plea by Balfour Beatty Communities LLC, which continues to operate military housing communities at 55 military installations across the country, including in Virginia – at Fort Eustis and Fort Story. Many of these management contracts have several decades remaining.

“Given that BBC continues to manage housing communities at 55 installations across the nation and has several decades left on their long-term contracts, we ask the following questions about how this settlement will affect the management of these properties and how DoD plans to ensure quality housing for military families moving forward,” the Senators wrote.

The letter inquires as to whether DoD plans to renegotiate or alter any of the existing terms of long-term contracts with private housing contractors to provide for more immediate and comprehensive oversight for military housing.

Sen. Warner has fiercely advocated for and secured a number of reforms to the privatized military housing system over the years, in response to the well-documented health hazards in military homes across the country. As noted in the letter, he successfully secured large portions of his military housing legislation, the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act, in the FY20 annual defense bill, and subsequently passed provisions in the FY21 defense bill to improve military housing metrics. Most recently, Sen. Warner supported the passage of the FY22 annual defense bill, which included increased accountability measures around military housing, by requiring the Secretaries of the military departments to ensure that personnel performance evaluations assess the extent to which certain military officers have exercised effective oversight and leadership of military privatized housing.

Joining Sen. Warner were 16 Senators including: U.S. Sens. Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Jack Reed (D-RI), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Secretary Austin,

We write regarding current Department of Defense (DoD) oversight of private housing contractors in the wake of the recent Department of Justice (DoJ) settlement with Balfour Beatty Communities LLC.

On December 22, 2021, the Department of Justice announced that the housing contractor Balfour Beatty Communities LLC (BBC) pleaded guilty to major fraud against the U.S. government and agreed to pay $65 million in fines and restitution. Following national publicity of pervasive concerns with privatized on-post military housing in 2018, the Department of Defense took steps to hold housing contractors to account for their failures to maintain adequate housing conditions for military families and to communicate with servicemembers and their families their rights. Congress also endeavored to improve military housing with the “Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act” as part of the Fiscal Year 2020 Defense Authorization Act. Despite these efforts, concerns persist, and bases and families continue to file lawsuits against the companies, including BBC, for many issues, including for repair delays, toxic mold, pests, unsealed windows and doors, and gas leaks.  We cannot expect our nation’s military families to suffer these conditions.    

In the DoJ release concerning the BBC plea and settlement, Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco said, “Instead of promptly repairing housing for U.S. servicemembers as required, BBC lied about the repairs to pocket millions of dollars in performance bonuses. This pervasive fraud was a consequence of BBC’s broken corporate culture, which valued profit over the welfare of servicemembers.” According to the release, for over six years, BBC employees falsified information to allow BBC to claim incentive fees for performance objectives primarily related to housing upkeep and resident satisfaction that had, in fact, not been met. These actions resulted in maintenance delays and an inability of the military services to accurately conduct oversight of the company and correct performance.

Given that BBC continues to manage housing communities at 55 installations across the nation and has several decades left on their long-term contracts, we ask the following questions about how this settlement will affect the management of these properties and how DoD plans to ensure quality housing for military families moving forward.

  • How will the December 2021 Department of Justice settlement with BBC affect the company’s current contracts with the Department of Defense?
  • According to the Department of Justice release, the settlement with BBC includes three years of probation and engagement with an independent compliance monitor. What does this mean for BBC’s current contracts at 55 installations? 
  • What mechanisms are in place to ensure similar fraudulent behavior will not happen again?
  • Does the Department of Defense plan to renegotiate or alter any of the existing terms of long-term contracts with private housing contractors to provide for more immediate and comprehensive oversight?
  • How does the Department of Defense plan to instill trust in military families that BBC and others will meet their housing needs?
  • What actions will the Department take to ensure BBC and other privatized housing companies are providing a sufficient quantity of quality housing for military families at bases where there is a serious need for additional housing? Has the Department considered increasing competition by allowing multiple companies to operate on bases, or by other means, to improve the availability and quality of housing for military families?

Thank you for your urgent attention to this critical issue. Our nation’s servicemembers and military families deserve to live in quality housing and trust that the U.S. government and private contractors will be responsive, respectful, and committed to meeting their needs.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $19,962,161 in funding for the Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS) to help further connect Virginia’s Appalachian region to national Interstates. The funding, awarded through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in coordination with the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), was made possible by the bipartisan infrastructure law negotiated by Sen. Warner and supported by Sen. Kaine.

“We are pleased to see these infrastructure dollars headed to Virginia, where they’ll help further connect Appalachian communities and maximize economic opportunity in the region,” said the Senators. “We’re proud that the bipartisan infrastructure law is dedicating the resources needed to advance this crucial development project.”

The ADHS is a 3,090-mile network of highways linking the Appalachian region to national Interstates, which provide access to regional and national markets, contributing to growth opportunities and improved access in Appalachia. The bipartisan infrastructure law represents the first sustained, robust, and dedicated support for the system in a decade, since funding for ADHS was not provided by Congress from 2012 to 2020.

As of September 30, 2021, Virginia’s ADHS corridors consist of 204.6 miles, with 192.2 miles currently eligible for funding. The estimated cost to complete Virginia’s ADHS corridors is $440.5 million – $172.9 for Corridor H, which runs from the West Virginia State line to I-81 at Strasburg, and $267.6 million for Corridor Q, which runs from Breaks Interstate Park at the Kentucky State line to I-81 at Christiansburg. Corridor B, which runs from Weber City at the Tennessee State line to the State line near Jenkins, Kentucky, is currently complete.

ARC is an economic development partnership agency of the federal government and 13 state governments, focusing on 420 counties across the Appalachian Region. ARC’s mission is to innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia to help the Region achieve socioeconomic parity with the nation. Since 1965, ARC has invested $4.5 billion in approximately 28,000 economic development projects across Appalachia, attracting over $10 billion in matching project funds. 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement today:

“Earlier today, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that manufacturers that rely on semiconductor chips have less than five days’ supply on hand, leaving vital supply chains extremely vulnerable to delays that are increasing prices for consumers on everything from automobiles to home appliances. Months ago, the Senate passed the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, which would invest $52 billion in domestic semiconductor production, by an overwhelming bipartisan vote. The Senate bill also invests in R&D for 5G technologies and takes other critical steps to secure our supply chains, improve innovation, and ensure that the U.S. can compete with China and the rest of the world. Today’s introduction in the House of Representatives of the America COMPETES Act is an important step in setting up a conference with the Senate so that we can finally get a bill to President Biden’s desk to sign.”

###

WASHINGTON – Today Rachel S. Cohen, communications director for U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), issued the following statement:

“Senator Warner has tested positive for a breakthrough case of COVID-19. He is glad that he has been vaccinated and boosted, and at this time his symptoms are extremely mild. Senator Warner will be working from home in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Office of the Attending Physician for the duration of his isolation period.”

###

WASHINGTON – On the first day of the 2021 tax filing season, Sen. Warner raised concerns with the IRS after hearing from Virginians who are still waiting on their refunds from the 2020 filing season. These delays come as millions of Americans continue to face economic hardship due to the COVID-19 crisis.

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, Sen. Warner stressed the importance of getting Virginians their individual tax refunds as soon as possible in order to avoid further processing delays. As of December 31, 2021, there were approximately 6 million unprocessed tax returns from 2020.

“I appreciate the IRS’ efforts to address the significant backlog of unprocessed returns, and recognize the significant challenges the agency has faced in operating during the pandemic while implementing major programs such as the stimulus payments and the Advance Child Tax Credit payments,” wrote Sen. Warner. “However, persistent delays harm taxpayers who are waiting for their returns to process – often those who need their refunds most –  and the agency has an obligation to implement a clear plan that alleviates this backlog while avoiding major delays for the processing of filed returns during the 2021 tax filing season.” 

This letter follows up on a February 2021 letter addressing the same issue of persistent processing delays at the IRS.

“Since my last letter, I have continued to hear from constituents that have still not had their 2020 tax returns processed, which has also caused delays in receiving the Advance Child Tax Credit payments, stimulus payments, tax refunds, and other much needed financial aid from the IRS,” Warner noted. “Additionally, businesses that have pending tax returns face delayed processing of their SBA EIDL loan applications. Taxpayers have increasingly expressed to my staff that they are unable to garner any information related to the processing of their tax returns via IRS phone lines or the website.”

In order to further understand the ongoing situation, Sen. Warner asked for answers to the following questions:

  1. What formal plans have the IRS and Treasury developed to resolve the significant backlog of individual and business tax returns that remain unprocessed from the 2020 tax filing season?
  2. How specifically will that plan allow the IRS to continue to process the backlog in parallel with the processing of returns for the tax year 2021 filing season?
  3. Will taxpayers whose 2020 returns remain unprocessed or delayed face any difficulties in filing returns – electronically or in paper form – for the 2021 tax year?  If so, what might these delays or difficulties be, what are your specific plans for addressing them, and how will taxpayers be informed in a timely fashion?
  4. When do you anticipate that the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) will resume accepting inquiries related to the processing of amended tax returns?  If TAS is unable to accept this casework, will the IRS dedicate other resources to assist with inquiries that TAS is unable to accept?

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate for Virginians, working to ensure that they get the funds to which they are entitled. In April 2020, he pressed the Treasury Department to ensure that families who are not normally required to file taxes do not need to wait until the following year to receive the additional $500 payment per dependent child that they were promised. He also successfully pushed the Treasury Department to allow Social Security recipients to automatically receive CARES Act direct cash assistance without needing to file a tax return.

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Secretary Yellen and Commissioner Rettig,

I write today to express my concern with the alarming number of my constituents who have not received their long-awaited tax refund from their 2020 taxes.  As you are well aware, millions of Americans are still facing economic hardships and are desperately in need of these funds to help make ends meet.

In my letter to you on February 8, 2021, I noted that as of November 6, 2020 there were approximately 6.8 million unprocessed tax returns.  As of December 31, 2021, there are still 6 million unprocessed tax returns; additionally, as of January 8, 2022, there are still 2.3 million unprocessed 1040-X, and 1.1 million unprocessed business tax returns as of January 12, 2022.

Since my last letter, I have continued to hear from constituents that have still not had their 2020 tax returns processed, which has also caused delays in receiving the Advance Child Tax Credit payments, stimulus payments, tax refunds, and other much needed financial aid from the IRS. Additionally, businesses that have pending tax returns face delayed processing of their SBA EIDL loan applications. Taxpayers have increasingly expressed to my staff that they are unable to garner any information related to the processing of their tax returns via IRS phone lines or the website. 

On November 10, 2021, National Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins announced that the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) would no longer accept congressional inquiries solely related to the processing of amended tax returns, due to the agency not being able to meaningfully expedite or improve case resolution for taxpayers.  Ms. Collins also issued a Taxpayer Advocate Directive directing the IRS to “complete processing of all backlogged amended tax returns by December 29, 2021 or provide a detailed plan for completing processing the backlog”.  The absence of assistance from TAS further aggravates the problems my constituents and other Americans face.  

I appreciate the IRS’ efforts to address the significant backlog of unprocessed returns, and recognize the significant challenges the agency has faced in operating during the pandemic while implementing major programs such as the stimulus payments and the Advance Child Tax Credit payments. However, persistent delays harm taxpayers who are waiting for their returns to process – often those who need their refunds most –  and the agency has an obligation to implement a clear plan that alleviates this backlog while avoiding major delays for the processing of filed returns during the 2021 tax filing season. 

Please reply to me as soon as possible, and no later than February 4, 2022, with specific answers to the following questions:

  1. What formal plans have the IRS and Treasury developed to resolve the significant backlog of individual and business tax returns that remain unprocessed from the TY 2020 tax filing season?
  2. How specifically will that plan allow the IRS to continue to process the backlog in parallel with the processing of returns for the tax year 2021 filing season?
  3. Will taxpayers whose 2020 returns remain unprocessed or delayed face any difficulties in filing returns – electronically or in paper form – for the 2021 tax year? If so, what might these delays or difficulties be, what are your specific plans for addressing them, and how will taxpayers be informed in a timely fashion?
  4. When do you anticipate that TAS will resume accepting inquiries related to the processing of amended tax returns?  If TAS is unable to accept this casework, will the IRS dedicate other resources to assist with inquiries that TAS is unable to accept?

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

 

Sincerely,

###

 

 

 

 WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner joined Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) land 16 of his Senate colleagues today in a bipartisan letter to President Biden urging him to include funding for emergency international food aid in any upcoming supplemental request to Congress.  Recently, the Biden Administration provided an additional $308 million in aid and eased procedures for humanitarian groups.  However, the Senators noted in their letter that both the United Nations and World Food Programme (WFP) indicate far more is needed to prevent mass starvation in multiple countries, particularly in Afghanistan where nearly half the population is at severe risk.

“Despite progress in recent decades to prevent and alleviate global hunger, 2020 and 2021 have seen the highest levels of hunger in more than ten years with the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating conflict areas and severe droughts,” the Senators wrote.  “Nowhere are the humanitarian needs more acute than in Afghanistan, where freezing winter weather is only worsening acute hunger… As such, we urge you to include robust funding for emergency international food aid as part of any upcoming supplemental request to Congress.  These additional funds… would go a long way toward preventing starvation around the world.” 

According to the United Nations’ 2021 report, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, close to 12 percent of the world’s population, representing 928 million people, faces severe food insecurity and 30 percent face at least moderate food insecurity.   The impact is particularly significant on women and children, with more than 149 million children under the age of five affected by stunting and nearly 30 percent of women around the world between the ages of 15 and 49 affected by anemia.  

Along with Durbin, today’s letter was signed by the following Senators: Jerry Moran (R-KS), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). 

Full text of today’s letter is available below:

Dear President Biden:

We write to convey our great concern with mounting global food insecurity, particularly in Afghanistan where nearly half the population is at severe risk.  We welcome your recent decisions to provide an additional $308 million in aid and ease procedures for humanitarian groups to help meet these desperate conditions, and hope other international donors will take similar actions.  However, given that both the United Nations and World Food Programme (WFP) indicate far more is needed to prevent mass starvation in multiple countries, we strongly urge you to include funding for emergency international food aid in any upcoming supplemental request to Congress. 

Despite progress in recent decades to prevent and alleviate global hunger, 2020 and 2021 have seen the highest levels of hunger in more than ten years with the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating conflict areas and severe droughts.  According to the United Nations’ 2021 report, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, close to 12 percent of the world’s population, representing 928 million people, faces severe food insecurity and 30 percent face at least moderate food insecurity.   The impact is particularly significant on women and children, with more than 149 million children under the age of five affected by stunting and nearly 30 percent of women around the world between the ages of 15 and 49 affected by anemia.   Such severe and rising levels of food insecurity impact nearly every region of the world.  In fact, the WFP warned in November that 45 million people are on the brink of famine across 43 countries, a devastating figure that is nearly 67 percent higher than the estimated 27 million in a similar dire situation in 2019.  

Nowhere are the humanitarian needs more acute than in Afghanistan, where freezing winter weather is only worsening acute hunger.  According to the WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization, while Afghanistan has suffered from malnutrition for decades, recent factors put an estimated 23 million people, around 55 percent of Afghanistan’s population, at potentially life-threatening levels of food insecurity.   In addition, the United Nations Development Programme warned that as much as 97 percent of Afghanistan’s population is at risk of sinking below the poverty line by this summer.  

As such, we urge you to include robust funding for emergency international food aid as part of any upcoming supplemental request to Congress.  These additional funds, through the International Disaster Assistance account, Food for Peace Title II, or others as appropriate, would go a long way toward preventing starvation around the world.

We stand ready to help with such a request and appreciate your attention to this timely issue.

Sincerely,

 

###

 

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement regarding an interim assessment conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on anomalous health incidents (AHIs):

“Reports of anomalous health incidents among intelligence, diplomatic and military personnel emerged as early as 2016 but were not always taken seriously in the past. CIA Director Burns has appropriately made this issue a top priority for the agency, seeking answers as to the cause of these mysterious symptoms, and whether they can be attributed to work of a foreign government. There is no question that members of the intelligence workforce have suffered from conditions requiring a medical response. I am heartened that there are now procedures in place to ensure that those who are affected by these anomalous health incidents finally have access to the world-class care that they deserve. In a briefing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, CIA leadership emphasized that there will be no changes to the seriousness with which they investigate AHIs, process for reporting AHIs, or eligibility for care as a result of these interim findings. We’re going to continue to take care of our folks and treat them with the empathy that they deserve.

“While Director Burns has earned the trust of the Senate Intelligence Committee that he is taking this challenge seriously, it’s important to note that today’s assessment, while rigorously conducted, reflects only the interim work of the CIA task force. The Senate Intelligence Committee will continue pressing for answers on a bipartisan basis, and we look forward to robust engagement with the intelligence community, as well as the conclusions of the outside experts panel that has been assembled to seek answers to these very urgent and difficult questions.”  

###

 

 

 

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) yesterday requested more information from major retailers regarding omicron-related supply chain problems and shortages that are contributing to inflation and rising costs. In a letter to the National Retail Federation – the world’s largest retail trade association, representing large retail companies like Target and Wal-Mart – Sen. Warner expressed concern with the ongoing supply chain disruptions and stressed that companies and the government must work together to tackle the problems that are leading to higher prices and directly hitting Americans’ pockets.  

“Despite the unprecedented challenges associated with reopening the nation and fighting the Delta and Omicron variants, our economy has recovered significantly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, increasing prices continue to threaten our progress. I understand that persistent supply/demand imbalances and supply chain disruptions are contributing to inflation and urge you to continue working with me, my colleagues, and the Biden Administration to identify ways to alleviate these supply chain issues as quickly as possible,” Sen. Warner wrote.  

He continued, “I am also continuing to advance legislation that addresses targeted supply chain issues that have shown to have sweeping impacts on our economy, including the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act which includes $52 billion for domestic semiconductor manufacturing. However, it is clear that these efforts will likely take time to bear fruit, and that more needs to be done now to help Americans facing raising prices.”

In the letter, Sen. Warner asked companies what they are doing to resolve the supply chain problems and what more the federal government can do to support those efforts. Specifically he posed the following series of questions to better understand the steps being taken by companies to alleviate supply chain pressures and to inquire about any additional measures that Congress can take to assist with this effort:

  1. Alleviating existing backlogs continues to be an immediate priority for the private sector as well as the government. Can you please explain what your companies are doing to alleviate backlogs and what challenges you are facing? Are there any constraints that lend themselves to policies that Congress should pursue?
  2. How long do you see supply chain pressures lasting? Do you believe the supply chain problems we are seeing will begin to soften in 2022?
  3. What more can Congress, or the federal government, do to support your efforts to clear these backlogs and strengthen our nation’s supply chains?

A copy of the letter is available here and below. 

Dear National Retail Federation Board Leadership and Board of Directors:

I write today concerned with the challenges posed by elevated levels of inflation in our economy.  Despite the unprecedented challenges associated with reopening the nation and fighting the Delta and Omicron variants, our economy has recovered significantly sine the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, increasing prices continue to threaten our progress. I understand that persistent supply/demand imbalances and supply chain disruptions are contributing to inflation and urge you to continue working with me, my colleagues, and the Biden Administration to identify ways to alleviate these supply chain issues as quickly as possible.

The latest release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that prices increased seven percent from a year earlier, the fastest pace in decades.[1] As you know, these price increases are particularly harmful for low-income Americans who have smaller economic cushions to absorb them. Many factors are contributing to the current bout of inflation, but widespread supply chain issues are of particular concern. That’s why I am grateful to President Biden for engaging with the private sector, making supply chains a key priority, forming the Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force and directing a whole-of-government approach to address the vulnerabilities and problems facing the country’s supply chains.[2]

Congress has also taken decisive action to reduce friction in the economy by passing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to make historic investments in infrastructure. I am also continuing to advance legislation that addresses targeted supply chain issues that have shown to have sweeping impacts on our economy, including the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act which includes $52 billion for domestic semiconductor manufacturing. However, it is clear that these efforts will likely take time to bear fruit, and that more needs to be done now to help Americans facing raising prices.

To that end, I am writing to request answers to the following questions from the organizations you represent:

  1. 1.     Alleviating existing backlogs continues to be an immediate priority for the private sector as well as the government. Can you please explain what your companies are doing to alleviate backlogs and what challenges you are facing? Are there any constraints that lend themselves to policies that Congress should pursue?
  2. 2.     How long do you see supply chain pressures lasting? Do you believe the supply chain problems we are seeing will begin to soften in 2022?
  3. 3.     What more can Congress, or the federal government, do to support your efforts to clear these backlogs and strengthen our nation’s supply chains?

During these past two years, our nation has faced tremendous costs and dislocations from the pandemic, which required bipartisan and public-private cooperation. While the country has made substantial economic progress since the spring of 2020, this cooperation and focus will continue to be vital, particularly as we face rising prices and additional waves of the virus.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

###

WASHINGTON —Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), and U.S. Reps. Bobby Scott and Elaine Luria (both D-VA), applauded $369,000,000 in federal funding for a number of key projects, including the City of Norfolk’s Coastal Storm Risk Management project and the Norfolk Harbor Widening and Deepening project. This funding, awarded through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), was made possible by the bipartisan infrastructure law, which was negotiated by Sen. Warner and supported by Sen. Kaine and Reps. Scott and Luria.

“We applaud the Biden administration and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers for recognizing the invaluable role the Port of Virginia and Norfolk Harbor have in supporting our nation’s economy. Additionally, we applaud the administration’s significant investment in the City of Norfolk to protect this community from the increasing threat of rising seas and significant flood events. After years of advocating for this funding, we are thrilled that Virginia will receive the federal dollars it needs to carry out these projects, which will help further strengthen our supply chains, mitigate the growing risks of sea level rise, and secure our economic and national security interests in and around the region,” said the lawmakers. “These projects are just a few examples of how the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is starting to work for the American people by providing the resources needed to improve communities and create jobs.”

The City of Norfolk Coastal Storm Risk Management Project will receive $249,331,000 to initiate the first construction contract of the project, which will help reduce and manage flooding for major portions of the city through a system of surge barriers, tidal gates, floodwalls, levees, pump stations, and non-structural measures.

The Norfolk Harbor Deepening and Widening Project will receive $69,331,000 to improve navigation and expand capacity by deepening and widening the harbor’s shipping channels. This will enable safer access for larger commercial and naval vessels and provide significant new economic opportunities to the region.

Other funding awarded to Virginia through the USACE FY22 Work Plan includes:

  • $281,295 and $2.2 million for Eastern Shore and Southwest Virginia
  • $120,000 for Indian Run
  • $300,000 for Hampton Roads Beneficial Use 
  • $325,000 for Manchester Canal
  • $3.5 million for Gathright Dam and Lake Moomaw
  • $11.525 million for John H Kerr Lake 
  • $2.56 million for Lynnhaven Inlet
  • $5.675 million for Milford Haven
  • $24.4 million for Philpott Lake

Sens. Warner and Kaine and Reps. Scott and Luria have long worked to secure funding for these key projects. They have consistently urged the Biden administration and the USACE for funding to start construction on the Norfolk Coastal Storm Risk Management Project, including in 2020 and 2021. They similarly pressed for funding for the Norfolk Harbor Project in 2020 and 2021. In 2018, Sens. Warner and Kaine successfully got Norfolk Harbor authorized for construction as part of the Water Resources Development Act. They also successfully pushed for the authorization of the Norfolk Coastal Storm Risk Management Project as part of the 2020 Water Resources Development Act.   

###

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and co-chair of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, issued the following statement today after President Biden signed a National Security Memorandum (NSM) to improve the cybersecurity of National Security, Department of Defense, and Intelligence Community Systems, as required in Executive Order (E.O) 14028, Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity:

“I applaud President Biden for signing this order to improve our nation’s cybersecurity. Among other priorities, this National Security Memorandum (NSM) requires federal agencies to report efforts to breach their systems by cyber criminals and state-sponsored hackers. Now it’s time for Congress to act by passing our bipartisan legislation that would require critical infrastructure owners and operators to report such cyber intrusions within 72 hours.”

In July 2021, following the SolarWinds and Colonial Pipeline hacks, Chairman Warner was joined by Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL), senior Committee member Susan Collins (R-ME), and a number of colleagues in introducing legislation to require federal government agencies, federal contractors, and critical infrastructure operators to notify the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) when a breach is detected so that the U.S. government can mobilize to protect critical industries across the country. In November 2021, Warner announced that a bipartisan agreement had been reached with the leaders of the Senate Homeland Security Committee on compromise legislation requiring critical infrastructure owners and operators to report to CISA within 72 hours if they are experiencing a substantial cyber-attack.

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) issued the following statement on the departure of Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) CEO and General Manager, Paul J. Wiedefeld:

“I want to thank Paul Wiedefeld for his service as General Manager and CEO of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. When Paul came on board in November 2015, WMATA faced a number of serious challenges and he was the right person for the job at the right time. Under Paul’s leadership, WMATA has not only secured dedicated capital funding from local, state, and federal governments, but has adeptly continued serving the DMV community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“As the WMATA Board of Directors searches for the next General Manager and CEO, it must focus on finding candidates who are equally committed to maintaining transparency, cooperating with state, local, and federal partners, and most importantly, prioritizing safety.”

###

WASHINGTON—Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine applauded $2,008,250 in federal funding awarded to the Chickahominy Eastern Division and Nansemond Indian Nation to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding was awarded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Indian Community Development Block Grant (ICDBG) program, which was extended under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, legislation Sens. Warner and Kaine voted for in March 2021. The American Rescue Plan allocated more than $31 billion to Native American communities across the country, including funding which will benefit Virginia’s federally recognized tribes.

“As the Omicron variant continues to create challenges for people across the Commonwealth, we’re glad to see that these federal dollars will provide critical relief for communities hit hard by the pandemic,” said the Senators. “This funding will help provide these tribes with services necessary to protect their health and safety.”

The funding will be awarded as follows:

  • Chickahominy Eastern Division will receive $1,010,000 to rehabilitate homes to improve indoor air quality.
  • Nansemond Indian Nation will receive $998,250 to expand and enhance their community center, which is used to distribute COVID-19 testing, vaccines, and food. This funding will help increase capacity for social distancing, upgrade kitchen facilities to prepare more meals for those in need, and install solar panels and battery storage to improve energy efficiency and resiliency during emergencies.

In 2017, Senators Kaine and Warner led legislation to grant federal recognition to six Virginia tribes, including the Chickahominy and Nansemond tribes. After centuries of being denied federal recognition, the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act was signed into law on January 30, 2018, making it possible for these tribes to receive federal funding.

In April 2021, Senator Kaine visited Nansemond Indian Nation to hold a roundtable with tribal members to discuss the challenges that the community has faced throughout the pandemic and encourage vaccinations.

 

###