Press Releases

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today applauded $23,979,453 in federal funding from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to expand broadband to nearly 7,000 unserved homes and businesses in seven counties across Southwest Virginia.

 “The lack of broadband infrastructure continues to affect folks in rural Virginia, from business owners to students,” said the Senators. “In our evolving economy, broadband isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity. That is why we’re glad to see these federal dollars go toward helping connect nearly 7,000 homes and businesses in Southwest Virginia.”

The funding will be distributed over ten years to support Sunset Digital Communications in providing minimum download speeds of 1 Gbps and minimum upload speeds of 500 Mbps. It will be awarded as listed below:

  • Buchanan County – $3,485,482 to serve 626 locations.
  • Dickenson County –$5,623,553 to serve 1617 locations.
  • Lee County – $3,351,835 to serve 1018 locations.
  • Russell County – $7,258,590 to serve 2556 locations.
  • Tazewell County – $2,900,697 to serve 714 locations.
  • Washington County – $57,143 to serve 9 locations.
  • Wise County – $1,302,153 to serve 404 locations.

The funding will be awarded as part of the Connect America Fund (CAF)’s Phase II – the second phase of an FCC program that seeks to expand access to voice and broadband services. CAF provides funding to providers to subsidize the cost of building new network infrastructure or performing network upgrades to expand voice and broadband service in areas where it is lacking. Across the Commonwealth, the FCC has authorized more than $108.5 million to expand broadband to 39,658 rural homes and businesses. 

Under this subsidy, providers are required to build out to 40 percent of the assigned homes and businesses within three years. Buildout must increase by 20 percent in each subsequent year, until complete buildout is reached at the end of the sixth year of support.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been strong supporters of expanding broadband access in Virginia as Governors and Senators, and have encouraged President Trump to include broadband as part of any bipartisan infrastructure initiative.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $375,000 in federal assistance to help advance an initiative in Charlottesville, Va. by the Charlottesville Food Justice Network to expand food access for youth and families, cultivate local food equity, and fuel and sustain economic empowerment through increased community-led urban agriculture. This funding, from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), was awarded through the Community Food Projects Competitive Grant Program (CFPCGP), a program designed to fight food insecurity by supporting the development of community food projects that promote self-sufficiency for low-income communities.

“With more than 1 million Virginians living in low-income areas with little or no access to healthy foods, it’s clear that food equity remains a critical issue in our Commonwealth,” said the Senators. “We are thrilled to announce that the Charlottesville Food Justice Network will be receiving federal support to build long-lasting solutions to expand food security in Charlottesville.”

Led by Charlottesville Food Justice Network, the Just Food for US (United Society) initiative aims to create an equitable food system through citizen-led urban agriculture, market development, youth leadership, and cross-sectorial action for local food policy. This grant will support a multifaceted effort to employ food insecure adults and youth as food justice leaders, increase racial equity practices in 30+ local food system organizations, and expand resident-led urban food production, distribution, and market participation at 16 urban sites for 50,000 lbs. of produce. The initiative will also develop food policy recommendations and help enact these changes.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been advocates for providing better resources to low-income, rural and urban communities who have limited or no access to nutritious foods. In March, Sen. Warner introduced the Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act (HFAAA) – legislation to incentivize food service providers like grocers, retailers, and nonprofits to expand access to nutritious foods in underserved communities. Earlier this year, Sens. Warner and Kaine, along with a group of 45 other Senators, urged the Trump administration to rescind a proposed rule that would take away nutrition benefits from Americans struggling to find stable employment.

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) released a new report titled, “Russia’s Use of Social Media.” It is the second volume released in the Committee’s bipartisan investigation into Russia’s attempts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. election.

The new report examines Russia’s efforts to use social media to sow societal discord and influence the outcome of the 2016 election, led by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency (IRA). The analysis draws on data provided to the Committee by social media companies and input from a Technical Advisory Group comprising experts in social media network analysis, disinformation campaigns, and the technical analysis of complex data sets and images to discern the dissemination of disinformation across social media platforms.

Statement from Chairman Burr:

“Russia is waging an information warfare campaign against the U.S. that didn’t start and didn’t end with the 2016 election. Their goal is broader: to sow societal discord and erode public confidence in the machinery of government. By flooding social media with false reports, conspiracy theories, and trolls, and by exploiting existing divisions, Russia is trying to breed distrust of our democratic institutions and our fellow Americans. While Russia may have been the first to hone the modern disinformation tactics outlined in this report, other adversaries, including China, North Korea, and Iran, are following suit.

“Any solution has to balance America’s national security interests with our constitutionally-protected right to free speech. Social media companies, federal agencies, law enforcement, and Congress must work together to address these challenges, and I am grateful for the cooperation our Committee has gotten from both the Intelligence Community and the tech industry. My hope is that by continuing to shine a light on this issue, we will encourage more Americans to use social media responsibly, as discerning and informed consumers.”

Statement from Vice Chairman Warner:

“The bipartisan work that this Committee has done to uncover and detail the extent of that effort has significantly advanced the public’s understanding of how, in 2016, Russia took advantage of our openness and innovation, exploiting American-bred social media platforms to spread disinformation, divide the public, and undermine our democracy. Now, with the 2020 elections on the horizon, there’s no doubt that bad actors will continue to try to weaponize the scale and reach of social media platforms to erode public confidence and foster chaos. The Russian playbook is out in the open for other foreign and domestic adversaries to expand upon – and their techniques will only get more sophisticated.

“As was made clear in 2016, we cannot expect social media companies to take adequate precautions on their own. Congress must step up and establish guardrails to protect the integrity of our democracy. At minimum, we need to demand transparency around social media to prevent our adversaries from hiding in its shadows. We also need to give Americans more control over their data and how it’s used, and make sure that they know who’s really bankrolling the political ads coming across their screens. Additionally, we need to take measures to guarantee that companies are identifying inauthentic user accounts and pages, and appropriately handling defamatory or synthetic content. It’s our responsibility to listen to the warnings of our Intelligence Community and take steps to prevent future attacks from being waged on our own social media platforms.”

The Committee has held five open hearings on Russia’s use of social media, including a September 2018 open hearing with Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter’s Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey. In December 2018, the Committee released two independent analyses of IRA activity, produced by New Knowledge and Graphika and the University of Oxford

The Committee released the first volume of its Russia investigation in July 2019. You can read, “Volume I: Russian Efforts Against Election Infrastructure,” here.

You can read, “Volume II: Russia’s Use of Social Media,here.

Key Findings and Recommendations:

  • The Committee found that the IRA sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election by harming Hillary Clinton’s chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin.  The Committee found that IRA social media activity was overtly and almost invariably supportive of then-candidate Trump to the detriment of Secretary Clinton’s campaign.  
  • The Internet Research Agency’s (IRA) targeting of the 2016 U.S. election was part of a broader, sophisticated, and ongoing information warfare campaign designed to sow discord in American politics and society. While the IRA exploited election-related content, the majority of its operations focused on exacerbating existing tensions on socially divisive issues, including race, immigration, and Second Amendment rights.
  • The Committee found the IRA targeted African-Americans more than any other group or demographic. Through individual posts, location targeting, Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, and Twitter trends, the IRA focused much of its efforts on stoking divisions around hot-button issues with racial undertones. 
  • The IRA engaged with unwitting Americans to further its reach beyond the digital realm and into real-world activities. For example, IRA operatives targeting African-Americans convinced individuals to sign petitions, share personal information, and teach self-defense courses. Posing as U.S. political activists, operatives sought help from the Trump Campaign to procure campaign materials and to organize and promote rallies.
  • The Committee found IRA activity increased, rather than decreased, after Election Day 2016. Analysis of IRA-associated accounts shows a significant spike in activity after the election, increasing across Instagram (238 percent), Facebook (59 percent), Twitter (52 percent), and YouTube (84 percent). Researchers continue to uncover IRA-associated accounts that spread malicious content.
  • The Committee recommends social media companies work to facilitate greater information sharing between the public and private sector. Because information warfare campaigns are waged across a variety of platforms, communication between individual companies, government authorities, and law enforcement is essential for fully assessing and responding to them. Additionally, social media companies do not consistently provide a notification or guidance to users who have been exposed to inauthentic accounts.
  • The Committee recommends Congress consider ways to facilitate productive coordination and cooperation between social media companies and relevant government agencies. Congress should consider whether any existing laws may hinder cooperation and whether information sharing should be formalized. The Committee also recommends Congress consider legislation to ensure Americans know the source behind online political advertisements, similar to existing requirements for television, radio, and satellite ads.
  • The Committee recommends the Executive Branch publicly reinforce the danger of attempted foreign interference in the 2020 election. The Executive Branch should establish an interagency task force to monitor foreign nations’ use of social media platforms for democratic interference and develop a deterrence framework. A public initiative to increase media literacy and a public service announcement (PSA) campaign could also help inform voters. 
  • The Committee recommends candidates, campaigns, and other public figures scrutinize sourcing before sharing or promoting new content within their social media network. All Americans should approach social media responsibly to prevent giving “greater reach to those who seek to do our country harm.” The Committee recommends that media organizations establish clear guidelines for using social media accounts as sources to prevent the spread of state-sponsored disinformation.

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine applauded $4,849,792 in federal funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) through its Partnership for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) initiative for communities in the Appalachian region of Virginia.

“We’re excited to support these investments to strengthen Virginia’s economy,” the Senators said. “This funding will help promote job growth, allow more people to access job training, and support rural businesses.”

The funding will be awarded as follows:

  • The Southwest Virginia Workforce Development Board in Lebanon, VA will receive $1,500,000 for the Recovery Opportunities and Pathways to Employment Success (ROPES) project. The ROPES program combines recovery and treatment from substance abuse with reemployment opportunities and workforce development to create a recovery-to-employment pathway.
  • Appalachian Community Capital (ACC) in Christiansburg, VA will receive $1,039,500 for the Opportunity Appalachia project. ACC has worked with five organizations, including the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, to develop a program that helps bring investment funding to federally designated Opportunity Zones in Central Appalachia. The initiative is estimated to bring in approximately $7.5 million in new investment in Central Appalachian coal communities, and will invest in 15 businesses and create 720 jobs, 70 of which are estimated to be for people recovering from substance abuse.
  • Appalachian Headwaters will receive $622,280 for the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective Diversification and Expansion project. Appalachian Headwaters aims to expand its programs focused on the apiculture (honey and bee products) industry to five counties in the Appalachian region of Virginia and 17 counties in southern West Virginia. The project will develop a training and marketing program for new bee products and services as well as create a new processing and training hub in Southwest Virginia.
  • The BARC Electric Cooperative in Millboro, VA will receive $1,000,000 for the BARC Rural Economic Development via Broadband project. The project will bring broadband access to 8 businesses and 301 households in Goshen.
  • Southwest Virginia Community College (SWCC) in Cedar Bluff, VA will receive $588,072 for the SWCC Automotive Service Excellence Center. The project will create a fast-track curriculum to prepare students for entry-level automobile technician positions.
  • The LENOWISCO Planning District Commission in Duffield, VA will receive $50,000 for the Technology Innovation Ecosystem for Rural Water Systems project. The project will identify innovative and emerging technologies that can be used to address potential leaks in small, rural public water systems.
  • Appalachian Voices will receive $49,940 for the Taking a Proven Energy Model to Scale project. The project will provide technical assistance to grow the emerging solar energy cluster in Central Appalachia. This funding will support a program in Southwest Virginia that helps building owners who want to use solar energy navigate the process of a commercial-scale solar installation. The program also pools purchasers together to reduce their costs.

The ARC’s POWER Initiative provides grants to communities that have been affected by severe job losses in the coal industry and the changing dynamics of America’s energy production. ARC's mission is to innovate, partner, and invest in the growth of new industries in Appalachia to diversify the region’s economy. Warner and Kaine have been strong advocates for a fully funded ARC so that it can continue to increase employment and economic opportunities for those living in Appalachia.

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today announced $6 million in federal funding to expand broadband access in Southwest Virginia. The investments are expected to expand job and economic opportunities in a region where average household incomes continue to lag behind both the national average and other places in Virginia.

“In the 21st century, high-speed internet access is essential,” said the Senators. “We are pleased to announce this federal investment that will increase opportunities for employment, education and services in Southwest Virginia.”

In Buchanan County, iGo Technology Inc. will receive $3 million to extend broadband access to an additional 820 homes and businesses.

The Scott County Telephone Cooperative will also receive a grant of $3 million to upgrade its current broadband infrastructure in the Dungannon area of Scott County where there is not 10/1 Mbps (10/1) service available. The proposed project upgrade will provide 592 customers more robust broadband infrastructure with greater reliability and higher networking speeds of up to one (1) Gig to each location.

The funds were awarded through the Community Connect Grant Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that helps fund broadband deployment into rural communities where it is not yet economically viable for private sector providers to deliver service. The grants were announced today along with USDA funding for 17 other projects in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Virginia received more federal grant funding to expand rural broadband service than any other state. 

Warner and Kaine have been strong supporters of expanding broadband access in Virginia as Governors and Senators, and have encouraged President Trump to include broadband as part of any bipartisan infrastructure initiative.

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) expressed his frustration today over repeated delays and inaction by the Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding the implementation of the Ashanti Alert Act, which was signed into law more than nine months ago, after passing through Congress in a bipartisan fashion. In a letter to Attorney General William Barr, Sen. Warner demanded a firm deadline for the national launch of the Ashanti Alert system, and called the DOJ’s inaction and lack of communication “unacceptable.”

“The delayed implementation of this critical public safety program is costing lives,” wrote Sen. Warner. “In our meeting, Ms. Sullivan had shared with me a number of concrete steps she would be taking to speed up implementation, and relayed she understood the importance of getting this alert system up and running in each state. However, in the two months since that meeting, there has been little progress on any of the items we spoke about. As well, the Department has subsequently failed to provide my office with any tangible updates or information in follow up emails.”

“One of my major concerns is that despite my urging, there has been no outreach to relevant officials in the Commonwealth of Virginia, who successfully helped implement a Virginia Ashanti Alert system in only three months. Delaying these key conversations regarding best practices will only slow implementation of this life-saving system,” Sen. Warner continued. “The lack of movement on implementing this critical alert system, and the lack of communication with my office is unacceptable.”

The Ashanti Alert Law is named after Ashanti Billie – a 19-year-old whose body was discovered in North Carolina, 11 days after she was first reported missing in Norfolk, Va. At the time of Ashanti’s abduction, she was too old for an AMBER Alert and too young for a Silver Alert. Once implemented, the Ashanti Alert would notify the public about missing or endangered adults, ages 18-64, and assist law enforcement in the search by way of a national communications network.

In the letter, Sen. Warner cited his numerous unanswered requests for updates and called on the DOJ to provide any further information on Ashanti Alert implementation efforts by October 11, 2019. He also requested a firm deadline for the national launch of the Ashanti Alert system.

Sen. Warner, who secured unanimous passage of this bill through the Senate on December 6, 2018, has been a leader in the fight to implement the Ashanti Alert. In August, he reiterated the need for the alert’s swift implementation, following a meeting with Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Sullivan. He has also previously demanded in-person meetings with the DOJ, requested implementation updates, and urged congressional appropriators to provide full funding for the timely implementation of the Ashanti Alert.

Text of this letter can be found below and a PDF is available here.

 

October 4, 2019

The Honorable William P. Barr

The Attorney General

United States Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, D.C., 20530

Dear Attorney General Barr:

Over nine months ago, President Trump signed the Ashanti Alert Act (P.L.115-401) into law. I write to you for a third time about delayed efforts by the Department of Justice to get this crucial system implemented in a timely manner. This week marks two years since 19-year-old Ashanti Billie was found murdered – 11 days after she was initially reported missing.  Because of Ashanti’s age, she did not qualify for AMBER or Silver Alerts and thus critical resources were not used to locate her whereabouts. This bipartisan bill passed with support from numerous organizations including the National Association of Police Organizations and the National Association to PROTECT Children. The delayed implementation of this critical public safety program is costing lives.    

On July 29th, I met with Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katherine Sullivan, who is also serving as the Ashanti Alert Coordinator, to express my concern about the delay and talk to her about next steps. I sent her a follow-up letter in early August memorializing our conversation, and agreed upon next steps. In our meeting, Ms. Sullivan had shared with me a number of concrete steps she would be taking to speed up implementation, and relayed she understood the importance of getting this alert system up and running in each state. However, in the two months since that meeting, there has been little progress on any of the items we spoke about. As well, the Department has subsequently failed to provide my office with any tangible updates or information in follow up emails.

One of my major concerns is that despite my urging, there has been no outreach to relevant officials in the Commonwealth of Virginia, who successfully helped implement a Virginia Ashanti Alert system in only three months. Delaying these key conversations regarding best practices will only slow implementation of this life-saving system. Below, for your information is a short timeline of the follow-up my staff has done, and the relevant responses my staff has received:

  • On August 6, 2019, my staff emailed the Department to share contacts with the Virginia State Police who would be happy to talk with the Department about how to best work with states to implement the Ashanti Alert nationwide. My staff also requested an update on a meeting with the CTIA The Wireless Association, and asked if there had been further conversations with the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). Both are topics about which Ms. Sullivan and I spoke.
  • On August 22, 2019, my staff once again asked for updates on the CTIA and COPS meetings, as well as whether the Department had spoken with the Virginia State Police to utilize its expertise. Additionally, we asked for a contact at the Department to share with another state interested in setting up a system similar to the Ashanti Alert.
  • On August 29, 2019, my staffed asked yet again for the above information.
  • On September 10, 2019, more than one month after my meeting with Ms. Sullivan, my staff asked a fourth time for the above items about which Ms. Sullivan and I spoke. We also requested an update on the Ashanti Alert implementation status.
  • On September 24, 2019 and September 30, 2019, my staff requested these answers for a fifth and sixth time. We have since received the Department contacts as well as information that the CTIA meeting was replaced with a meeting with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The lack of movement on implementing this critical alert system, and the lack of communication with my office is unacceptable. Thus, I am asking for a response from the Department regarding next steps. Please respond to my office no later than Thursday, October 11, 2019 with details on the following questions:

  • Are there any further updates on the Ashanti Alert implementation efforts? If so, please provide a detailed update on these efforts.
  • Has the Department contacted relevant Virginia officials to discuss how the Commonwealth successfully implemented an Ashanti Act system? If so, please provide a detailed update on these conversations. If not, please explain the delay.
  • Are there any further updates regarding the Ashanti Act implementation meeting(s) between the Department and the FCC? If so, please provide a detailed update on these meetings.

Finally, I would like a firm deadline for the national launch of the Ashanti Alert system. Further delay of this critical public safety program will only cost lives. Thank you for your time and I look forward to your expeditious response.

Sincerely, 

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $1,003,327 in federal funding for Rockingham County and the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority from the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program. These grants aim to improve responses and outcomes for individuals with mental illnesses or co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders who have come into contact with the criminal justice system.

“We’re pleased to announce this funding to help reduce recidivism among individuals struggling with mental illness and substance abuse,” said the Senators. “For too long, our country has failed people with mental illnesses who often end up in jail without getting the treatment they need. By creating partnerships between law enforcement officers and mental health professionals, we can improve our criminal justice system’s response to those in need of mental or behavioral health services.”

The following will receive funding:

  • The Richmond Behavioral Health Authority will receive $253,327.
  • Rockingham County will receive $750,000.

DOJ’s Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program is a cross-system collaboration among criminal justice, mental health, and substance abuse treatment systems. The program supports increased training for law enforcement and public safety officials to better prepare them for their interactions with high-risk individuals with mental illnesses or co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders. It does this by providing social services and activities including: training for criminal justice, mental health, and substance use disorders treatment personnel; information sharing within and across criminal justice and behavioral health treatment agencies; and specialized caseloads for people on community supervision with more significant mental health needs and higher risk of reoffending.

###

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led 39 Senators today in urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to protect individuals with preexisting conditions by limiting the proliferation of “junk plans” – short-term insurance plans that can exclude coverage for essential benefits and provide no protections for Americans with preexisting conditions.

“We have heard from patients, physicians, independent experts, and other health care stakeholders that individuals with preexisting conditions are being negatively impacted by your Administration’s actions. More recently, we have seen the real world negative impact on individuals who have unknowingly enrolled in these deceptively marketed junk plans,” wrote the Senators. “Just this month, Bloomberg reported Arizona resident David Diaz unknowingly purchased a short-term health plan that did not cover preexisting conditions and placed ambiguous limits on emergency room care and other essential health care services. His family has been left with hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical debt. The Washington Post similarly reported on Jesse Lynn, who purchased a short-term health plan not realizing his back problem would be considered a preexisting condition. Jesse’s insurance company refused to cover his care – forcing his family into bankruptcy.”

They continued, “The Administration’s rule on state waivers allows taxpayer dollars to go to these junk plans, accelerating the problems we are already seeing with junk plans and leaving fewer resources for people who purchase high quality insurance. Additionally, the Administration’s new rule weakens coverage by allowing waivers that increase premiums and out-of-pocket costs for those who need health care most. We have worked tirelessly to protect individuals with preexisting conditions from barriers to coverage. We urge you to do the same, including by limiting the proliferation of short-term junk plans and ensuring that consumers in every state are protected by federal consumer protections for people with preexisting conditions.”

The Trump Administration recently issued a rule that allows states to ignore federal consumer protections and use taxpayer dollars to subsidize junk insurance plans that cover less and cost more. These junk plans can exclude coverage of essential benefits like prescription drugs, emergency room visits, maternity care, or mental health care. Additionally, under this rule, states can give insurance companies the green light to discriminate against Americans with preexisting conditions by increasing costs, limiting coverage, or denying coverage altogether.

In their letter, the Senators urged HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CMS Administrator Seema Verma to limit the spread of short-term junk plans and safeguard Affordable Care Act (ACA) protections that increase access to affordable and comprehensive health insurance, and forbid insurance companies from discriminating against individuals with preexisting conditions.

Sen. Warner has been a fierce leader in the fight to protect health care from the Trump Administration’s efforts to dismantle our nation’s health care law. Earlier this year, Sen. Warner introduced a Congressional Review Act resolution to stop the Trump Administration from promoting junk plans, and last month, he filed a discharge petition that will force the Senate to vote before November 12 on whether to roll back the waiver rule allowing these harmful changes.

Joining Sen. Warner in writing this letter are Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Cory A. Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Thomas R. Carper (D-DE), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Christopher A. Coons (D-DE), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Margaret Wood Hassan (D-NH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Doug Jones (D-AL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT), Joe Manchin III (D-WV), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Christopher Murphy (D-CT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Gary C. Peters (D-MI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Text of the letter can be found below and a PDF is available here.

 

October 3, 2019

The Honorable Alex Azar

Secretary

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

200 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20201

The Honorable Seema Verma

Administrator

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

7500 Security Boulevard

Baltimore, MD 21244

Dear Secretary Azar and Administrator Verma:

We write to express our concern with the Administration’s repeated efforts to weaken protections for Americans with preexisting conditions and increase costs for millions, including through a new rule  which allows for harmful waivers that weaken protections for vulnerable populations and exacerbate the damage already being caused by the expansion of short-term, limited-duration insurance, or “junk” plans. We have heard from patients, physicians, independent experts, and other health care stakeholders that individuals with preexisting conditions are being negatively impacted by your Administration’s actions. More recently, we have seen the real world negative impact on individuals who have unknowingly enrolled in these deceptively marketed junk plans.

We have heard directly from individuals with preexisting conditions and other Americans who are being negatively impacted by junk plans. Just this month, Bloomberg reported Arizona resident David Diaz unknowingly purchased a short-term health plan that did not cover preexisting conditions and placed ambiguous limits on emergency room care and other essential health care services. His family has been left with hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical debt. The Washington Post similarly reported on Jesse Lynn, who purchased a short-term health plan not realizing his back problem would be considered a preexisting condition. Jesse’s insurance company refused to cover his care – forcing his family into bankruptcy. No family should be forced into bankruptcy because of a preexisting medical condition or obscure coverage limits on care.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) established clear protections to prohibit insurance companies from discriminating against individuals with preexisting conditions, and ensure that more Americans have access to affordable and comprehensive health insurance. The junk plans your Administration has sought to expand and promote provide none of these protections and can legally increase premiums, exclude benefits, and deny coverage altogether to individuals with preexisting conditions. These plans place arbitrary coverage limits and many don’t cover essential health benefits, such as mental health care and maternity care.

The Administration’s rule on state waivers allows taxpayer dollars to go to these junk plans, accelerating the problems we are already seeing with junk plans and leaving fewer resources for people who purchase high quality insurance.

Additionally, the Administration’s new rule weakens coverage by allowing waivers that increase premiums and out-of-pocket costs for those who need health care most.

We have worked tirelessly to protect individuals with preexisting conditions from barriers to coverage. We urge you to do the same, including by limiting the proliferation of short-term junk plans and ensuring that consumers in every state are protected by federal consumer protections for people with preexisting conditions. Thank you and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely, 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Marco Rubio (R-FL), member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, have expressed concern over the growing threat posed by deepfakes – sophisticated audio and video technologies that allow users to create fake audio and/or video files that falsely depict someone saying or doing something. In letters to 11 social media companies, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, Sens. Warner and Rubio urged the platforms to develop industry standards for sharing, removing, archiving, and confronting the sharing of synthetic content as soon as possible, in light of foreign threats to the upcoming U.S. election. The letters also encouraged the platforms to develop clear policies to ensure their platforms are not exploited to spread disinformation or misinformation, including through authenticating media, labeling and archiving synthetic media content, and providing access to qualified outside researchers.

“As concerning as deepfakes and other multimedia manipulation techniques are for the subjects whose actions are falsely portrayed, deepfakes pose an especially grave threat to the public’s trust in the information it consumes; particularly images, and video and audio recordings posted online,” wrote the Senators. “If the public can no longer trust recorded events or images, it will have a corrosive impact on our democracy.”

“Despite numerous conversations, meetings, and public testimony acknowledging your responsibilities to the public, there has been limited progress in creating industry-wide standards on the pressing issue of deepfakes and synthetic media,” they continued. “Having a clear strategy and policy in place for authenticating media, and slowing the pace at which disinformation spreads, can help blunt some of these risks.  Similarly, establishing clear policies for the labeling and archiving of synthetic media can aid digital media literacy efforts and assist researchers in tracking disinformation campaigns, particularly from foreign entities and governments seeking to undermine our democracy.”

Deepfake technologies allow users to superimpose existing images and videos onto unrelated images or videos, essentially giving users the ability to create false and defamatory content that can be easily spread on social media.

In their letters to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Snapchat, Imgur, TikTok, Pinterest, and Twitch, the Senators emphasized that more than two-thirds of Americans get their news from social media sites, and stressed that online media platforms must assume a heightened responsibility for safeguarding public confidence. They also posed the following series of questions about each company’s ability to prevent, detect, and address deepfakes and other synthetic media:

  1. What is your company’s current policy regarding whether users can post intentionally misleading, synthetic or fabricated media?
  2. Does your company currently have the technical ability to detect intentionally misleading or fabricated media, such as deepfakes? If so, how do you archive this problematic content for better re-identification in the future?
  3. Will your company make available archived fabricated media to qualified outside researchers working to develop new methods of tracking and identifying such content?  If so, what partnerships does your company currently have in place?  Will your company maintain a separate, publicly accessible archive for this content?
  4. If the victim of a possible deepfake informs you that a recording is intentionally misleading or fabricated, how will your company adjudicate those claims or notify other potential victims?
  5. If your company determines that a media file hosted by your company is intentionally misleading or fabricated, how will you make clear to users that you have either removed or replaced that problematic content?
  6. Given that deepfakes may attract views that could drive algorithmic promotion, how will your company and its algorithms respond to, and downplay, deepfakes posted on your platform?
  7. What is your company’s policy for dealing with the posting and promotion of media content that is wholly fabricated, such as untrue articles posing as real news, in an effort to mislead the public? 

###

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

“It is deeply disturbing that the president went on national television and told the American people that he’s trying to find out the whistleblower’s identity. The president’s comments about ‘spies and treason’ and ‘what we used to do in the old days’ are downright dangerous and will do serious damage to our national security long after this news cycle is over. That kind of rhetoric can only serve one purpose: intimidation of this whistleblower and anyone else within the intelligence community who is considering stepping forward to report wrongdoing.

“It is incumbent upon the Acting Director of National Intelligence and other intelligence leaders to publicly pledge that they will protect and stand by this whistleblower, and any other individual within the intelligence community who steps forward to lawfully report illegal or unethical behavior within the federal government, anonymously or otherwise.”

 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), member of the Senate Finance Committee, along with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) have introduced legislation to provide financial relief to the Virginia Beach Tragedy Fund to help Virginia Beach shooting victims get the financial assistance they need. The Virginia Beach Strong Act would ensure that any donations made to the Virginia Beach Tragedy Fund on behalf of the families of the dead or wounded victims of the mass shooting in Virginia Beach are tax-deductible.

“There is nothing we can do to undo this tragedy or bring back the individuals we lost in this senseless act of violence, but we can try to make it as easy as possible for families and those injured to get the relief they need,” said the Senators. “This legislation will further incentivize donations to the Virginia Beach Tragedy Fund by making sure that contributions to victims and families are permitted to be treated as charitable contributions.”

U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives that is supported by Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Rob Wittman (R-VA), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Denver Riggleman (R-VA), Don Beyer (D-VA), A. Donald McEachin (D-VA), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), and Jennifer Wexton (D-VA).

“On May 31st, our Virginia Beach community experienced an unspeakable tragedy that led to the loss of 12 wonderful people,” Rep. Luria said. “In the wake of our community’s darkest day, we saw countless selfless people donate to provide relief for grieving families. I am introducing the Virginia Beach Strong Act to make it easier to help bring more urgently-needed support to grieving families.”

On May 31, 2019, a gunman opened fire at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center, killing 12 people and injuring four. Soon after, the Virginia Beach Tragedy Fund was created to support the wounded victims and the families of those killed. However, because the fund was set up exclusively for the benefit of those affected by the tragedy, it violates a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable tax rule that prohibits charitable funds from being earmarked for specific individuals. As a result, donations to the fund are not currently tax-deductible for those making the contributions.

The Virginia Beach Strong Act would clarify that any contribution made for the relief of the families of the dead or wounded victims is treated as a tax-deductible contribution. This legislation would also apply retroactively, classifying any such contribution made on or after May 31, 2019 as tax-deductible.

Sens. Warner and Kaine, along with Rep. Luria have been fierce advocates for the victims and families affected by this mass shooting. In August, they successfully passed bicameral legislation to rename a Virginia Beach post office after Ryan “Keith” Cox, a longtime public utilities employee who, alongside other victims, sacrificed his own life to save others during the shooting. In June, Sens. Warner and Kaine wrote to the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to verify that victims and families were not being taxed on the contributions they were receiving. Additionally, the Senators secured unanimous passage earlier this year of a Senate resolution honoring the 12 victims of the Virginia Beach shooting.

The full text of the bill is available here.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced that the County of Wise will receive $500,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to install a new sewer system outside Coeburn.

“We are pleased to announce these funds to improve wastewater infrastructure in Wise County,” said the Senators. “The new sewer system will improve health and water quality by reducing runoff and contamination.”

Residents in the Banner community outside of the Town of Coeburn are not served by a public wastewater treatment system. Most residents rely on conventional onsite sewage disposal systems, nearly 80 percent of which have been in operation for more than 30 years, exceeding the typical life cycle of these systems. The new sewer system, which will be installed in two phases, will collect waste and transport it to the Coeburn-Norton-Wise Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant for processing, eliminating the need for residents to maintain costly private septic systems in a community where 65 percent of the population is low- and moderate-income. The project is also expected to improve local ecosystems and water quality and reduce health risks associated with sewage runoff and discharges.

###       

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.

###

WASHINGTON – Senate Banking Committee members, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Doug Jones (D-AL), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and John Kennedy (R-LA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Jerry Moran (R-KS) today introduced bipartisan legislation to improve corporate transparency, strengthen national security, and help law enforcement combat illicit financial activity being carried out by terrorists, drug and human traffickers, and other criminals. 

The Improving Laundering Laws and Increasing Comprehensive Information Tracking of Criminal Activity in Shell Holdings (ILLICIT CASH) Act would, for the first time, require shell companies – often used as fronts for criminal activity – to disclose their true owners to the U.S. Department of Treasury. It would also update decades-old anti-money laundering (AML) and combating the financing of terrorism (CFT) policies, by giving Treasury and law enforcement the tools they need to fight criminal networks. This includes improving overall communication between law enforcement, financial institutions, and regulators, and facilitating the adoption of critical 21st century technologies. 

“Transparency is the best weapon we have against the misuse of our financial system by those who would harm the United States and our allies,” said Sen. Warner. “As bad actors use ever more sophisticated techniques, we need to make sure federal agencies have the tools they need to prevent this abuse of our financial system and protect our national security. That starts with making sure we have a full usable record of who actually owns these shell companies.”

“Right now, criminals and terrorists are exploiting our financial system using shell companies that hide their identities. This legislation will allow law enforcement to track ill-gotten gains while at the same time protecting small businesses from unnecessary regulation. I’m proud that we’ve delivered a product that respects the needs of Arkansas small businesses, from startups to steel companies,” said Sen. Cotton.

“It is simply too easy in the United States for criminals to hide behind anonymous shell companies. Our bipartisan bill gives the American law enforcement and national security officials the tools they need to fight back against the criminals that seek to exploit our financial system and fund their illegal activities,” said Sen. Jones.

“Our legislation protects Americans by depriving criminals and terrorists of tools they use to finance illicit activity. Developed through months of hard work and consensus-building, the ILLICIT CASH Act gives the Treasury Department and law enforcement the tools they need to combat illegal financial activity without burdening legitimate businesses. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to advance this important issue – the first serious overhaul of our anti-money laundering system in decades,” said Sen. Rounds.

“It’s still far too easy for rogue regimes, corrupt oligarchs, human traffickers and drug cartels to use American shell companies to launder money through the United States,” said Sen. Menendez. “Our bill gives our national security and law enforcement professionals new tools to make sure our financial system can no longer be a safe haven for illegal actors.”

“Transparency is a powerful tool to use against criminal activity because it makes it impossible to hide.  Criminals know it’s easier to set up a shell company than it is to get a library card in the U.S.  This bill will help dismantle criminal networks by ensuring that we know who truly owns shell companies,” said Sen. Kennedy.

“From money laundering to funding terrorism and sex trafficking, it’s outrageous that in the United States it is still incredibly easy for criminals to set up shell companies to hide their illicit financial activity,” said Sen. Cortez Masto. “I’m proud to cosponsor comprehensive legislation that gives the Treasury Department and law enforcement the modern-day tools they need to track down these criminals, prevent abuse of our financial system and keep Americans safe.” 

According to research from the University of Texas and Brigham Young University, the U.S. remains one of the easiest places in the world to set up an anonymous shell company. A recent report by Global Financial Integrity demonstrates that, in all 50 U.S. states, more information is currently required to obtain a library card than to register a company. Human traffickers, terrorist groups, arms dealers, transnational criminal organizations, kleptocrats, drug cartels, and rogue regimes have all used U.S.-registered shell companies to hide their identities and facilitate illicit activities. Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies find it increasingly difficult to investigate these illicit financial networks without access to information about the beneficial ownership of corporate entities involved.

At the same time, U.S. AML-CFT laws have not kept pace with the growing exploitation of the global financial system to facilitate criminal activity. According to a United Nations Report, money laundering activity and illicit cross-border financial flows have generated upwards of $300 billion annually in criminal proceeds. While tracking these growing sums is increasingly difficult, U.S. laws have also failed to adequately address the small dollar financing of global terrorist groups. 

“Our own research and data have shown that the criminals behind trafficking operations use secrecy to hide both their identity and the proceeds of their crimes.  Secrecy allows them to profit with impunity.  By ending the ability of traffickers and others to use anonymous companies, the ILLICIT CASH Act will, for the first time, provide critical information to the police and prosecutors with whom we work to follow the money.  We applaud the bill sponsors for working across party lines to take these effective steps to address the deep, lasting and unimaginable harms caused by human trafficking,” said Bradley Myles, CEO, Polaris.

“As end users of evidence collected throughout the investigative process, it is imperative that prosecutors have as much information as possible in order to determine the best course of action for prosecuting an individual or entity that has committed a crime. Beneficial ownership data collection is vital to this effort, and law enforcement and prosecutors must have lawful access to that information. NDAA is excited to support the Illicit Cash Act and looks forward to working with Senators Warner, Jones, Cotton, Rounds, Kennedy, Menendez, Cortez Masto & Moran in moving this legislation through Congress,” said Nelson Bunn, Executive Director, National District Attorneys Association.

“We appreciate Senators Warner, Cotton, Jones, Rounds, Menendez, Kennedy, Cortez Masto and Moran’s hard work in building additional bipartisan support and pushing this legislation forward. Their legislation would both modernize our antiquated AML regime and help law enforcement and national security officials by closing the anonymous shell company loophole exploited by human traffickers, drug smugglers, and terrorists,” said Greg Baer, President and CEO, Bank Policy Institute.

“The ease with which bad actors can hide illicit cash in the U.S. undermines our national security, props up rogue leaders and renegade regimes, and destroys lives — both here and abroad. The ILLICIT CASH Act is a direct and effective response to the dangers and devastation that result from the lack of safeguards to protect our financial system from abuse,” said Gary Kalman, Executive Director, Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency (FACT) Coalition.

“When we are able to expose the link between shell companies and drug trafficking, corruption, organized crime and terrorist finance, law enforcement will be able to bring these criminals to justice and make our citizens and our nation safer. This legislation will help law enforcement by removing the mask that hides these illicit actors,” said Pat Yoes, President, Fraternal Order of Police.

Given the critical importance of cracking down on criminal shell companies and the need to combat money laundering and terrorism, the ILLICIT CASH Act envisions a more transparent corporate ownership system and an updated, effective and efficient AML-CFT regime designed for the 21st century. Specifically, this legislation would:

  • Establish federal reporting requirements mandating that all beneficial ownership information be maintained in a comprehensive federal database, with strict privacy protections, accessible by federal and local law enforcement.
  • Help recruit and retain top talent at the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) by putting employees on a pay scale comparable to that of federal financial regulators.
  • Create a hub of financial expert investigators at FinCEN to investigate potential AML-CFT activity in collaboration with federal government agencies.
  • Facilitate communications between the Treasury and financial institutions by establishing a Treasury financial institution liaison to seek and receive comments regarding AML-CFT rules, regulations, and examinations.
  • Require the Department of Justice (DOJ) to provide the Treasury Department with metrics on the usefulness of AML-CFT data from financial institutions for law enforcement purposes, as well as data on the past and current trends identified by DOJ in the AML-CFT landscape.
  • Require law enforcement to coordinate with financial regulators to provide periodic feedback to financial institutions on their suspicious activity reports.
  • Prioritize the protection of personally identifying information while establishing a clear path for financial institutions to share AML-CFT information for the purposes of identifying suspicious activity.
  • Prevent foreign banks from obstructing money laundering or terrorist financing investigations by requiring these banks to produce records in a manner that establishes their authenticity and reliability for evidentiary purposes, and compelling them to comply with subpoenas. This legislation would also authorize contempt sanctions for banks that fail to comply and increase penalties on repeat BSA violators. 
  • Ensure the inclusion of current and future payment systems in the AML-CFT regime by updating the definition of “coins and currency” to include digital currency.

A section-by-section analysis of this bill is available here. A one-pager is available here. The full text of the bill is available here.  

###

WASHINGTON - Today at the U.S. Capitol a bipartisan, bicameral Congressional delegation, leading national advocacy groups, and the families of Heather Heyer and Khalid Jabara called for swift passage of the NO HATE Act. The NO HATE Act seeks to address the underreporting of hate crimes and improve police response to hate crimes. Jabara and Heyer were both killed by men who were prosecuted for hate crimes, but those murders were not reported by state and local law enforcement to the FBI.

“Until all hate crimes are accurately reported and tracked, and an effective response mounted, lives like Khalid’s and Heather’s will continue to be cut short, and families like ours and Susan’s will continue to live with the pain,” said Victoria and Rami Jabara, sister and brother of Khalid Jabara.

“We need a basic accounting of what is happening with hate crimes, and this bill will go a long way to doing that,” said Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer. “You don't take your child to the doctor or your car to the mechanic without analyzing symptoms, and we don't even know all the symptoms of hate crimes. We don't know how many occur; there are huge gaps as illustrated by Khalid's death and Heather's death not being reported.”

“The loss of Heather Heyer and Khalid Jabara cannot be undone, but we can honor their lives by passing legislation like the NO HATE Act to help prevent future tragedies,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA). “When I introduced the NO HATE Act in 2016 we had small a handful of cosponsors and supporting groups behind it; now the bill is much better, it’s bipartisan and bicameral, and the support is much stronger. But the problem of hate and extremist violence has also gotten much worse. We need our colleagues to get behind this bipartisan legislation to help law enforcement track, respond, and prevent hate crimes.”

“Hate crimes shatter lives – they shred people’s sense of trust and wellbeing,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). “I admire so much, so deeply the courage and strength of Susan Bro and Rami and Victoria Jabara in being here. Since the deaths of Heather Heyer and Khalid Jabara, hate crimes continue to take their toll in America. Americans are saying enough is enough. We are going to fight as long and hard as necessary to make sure that hate crimes reporting is improved, that state prosecutions are aided with grants, and that the provisions of our NO HATE Act are fully implemented.”

"When Congressman Beyer asked me to be an original sponsor of the NO HATE Act my answer was an immediate yes. This bill is bipartisan — it has the support of Republicans and Democrats; the hotline it creates will be a lifeline to help those targeted with violence just for being who they are; and the bill allows us to capture important data on hate crimes so we can better stop them before they happen. America was founded on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our bill is an important step in helping all Americans realize that promise," said Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX).

“We must come together to combat the rise of hate crimes in America,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). “I’m encouraged that the NO HATE Act has bipartisan support in the House, and numerous cosponsors in the Senate, but much more work lies ahead. Events like today’s play an important role in educating lawmakers and the public about the scourge of hate crimes and the need to eradicate them. I thank Susan Bro and all who joined us today in this fight. I’m determined to honor the legacy of Heather Heyer, Khalid Jabara, and the victims of hate crimes everywhere with enactment of the NO HATE Act.”

“All Americans should be able to live in peace in their own communities – regardless of their skin color, how they worship, or where they come from,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA). “That’s why Congress needs to vote on this commonsense bill, which will make it easier to keep an accurate record of hate crimes in this country.”

“The DOJ, the FBI, the nation’s law enforcement agencies, and policy makers all know there is a massive underreporting of hate crimes,” said AAI Executive Director Maya Berry. “It is possible that FBI statistics capture as little as one percent of the hate crimes that occur annually, meaning hundreds of thousands of hate crimes go unreported each year. Behind every missing datapoint is a name, a family, a community. We must say the names, support the families, and elevate the communities of those targeted by hate. Improving our method of hate crime reporting and data collection is the necessary first step. We are indebted to the families of Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer, the members of Congress leading this effort, and our civil rights partners. We have collectively worked hard in support of the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act because it will get us closer to what Congress set out to do in passing the Hate Crime Statistics Act three decades ago. Now as then, our elected officials—both Democrats and Republicans—must come together to pass the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act.”

“To fight hate, we must first understand it,” said Anjali Thakur-Mittal, Director, Communities Against Hate Initiative, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “In order to minimize violence against our most vulnerable communities, we must first achieve the reliable collection of accurate data. The bicameral, bipartisan Jabara Heyer NO HATE Act will get us closer to that end by improving our government’s approach to addressing hate. To honor Khalid Jabara, Heather Heyer, and all victims of hate, Congress must pass the Jabara Heyer NO HATE Act now.”

"We have seen an increase in violent hate crimes in this country over the past three years, particularly against LGBTQ people,” said David Stacy, HRC Director of Government Affairs. “This epidemic of fatal violence has led to the deaths of at least 18 trans people of whom have been killed in 2019, nearly all of them Black trans women. It is critical to understand the entire scope of violence and discrimination facing communities across the country. The Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act would promote better data collection on these crimes, giving us a fuller picture of the scope of this problem to help us end the violence. We thank Senators Blumenthal, Warner and Kaine and Representatives  Beyer and Olson for introducing this critical legislation."

“The Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer Hate Crime Reporting Act is a crucial step forward in addressing the rise in hate crimes over the last several years,” said Manar Waheed, Senior Legislative and Advocacy Counsel of ACLU. “Khalid and Heather were killed exactly one year apart—Khalid at the hands of someone with a long history of harassment and attacks against him and his family in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Heather during the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in the summer of 2017. Although their cases were prosecuted as hate crimes, law enforcement did not report either Khalid’s or Heather’s deaths in federal hate crimes statistics, a failure for which there is no greater indication of the need to improve our hate crimes reporting. This bill as an important step towards understanding the scope of this violence and honoring the legacy of those that have been lost. Without an understanding of the problem, we cannot begin to address it or improve the safety of all communities.”

“As religious minorities, as people of faith, and as Americans, Muslims and Jews know that hate is like a fire set in the woods; when one tree is targeted all are in danger of setting ablaze. To extinguish the conflagration of hate crimes in this country each victim must count and all must be counted—the NO HATE Act gets us there,” said Dr. Ari Gordon of AJC and the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council.   

Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer, and Haifa Jabara, mother of Khalid Jabara recently made the case in the New York Times for passage of this legislation named after their children. The Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act would help close enormous gaps in hate crime statistics and improve the response to hate crimes by local, state, and federal law enforcement.

###

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today filed paperwork that will force a Senate vote to protect people with pre-existing conditions from another attempt by the Trump Administration to gut the Affordable Care Act. 

“Under the pretext of so-called ‘short-term’ plans, the Trump administration is pushing healthcare plans that once again allow insurance companies to discriminate against Americans based on their medical history. These skinny plans, or how I refer to them as ‘junk plans,’ also undermine the Affordable Care Act’s requirements that insurance cover things like emergency room visits, maternity care, and other essential benefits,” said Sen. Warner on the Senate floor. “Let me be clear, the reason that this market has suddenly been flooded with these junk plans, many cases advertising in low-income markets that these are ACA, or Obamacare plans, is not because Congress passed any law. The President tried and failed twice to pass legislation ending these protections for folks with pre-existing conditions. And since they couldn’t get their way in Congress, now they’re using executive action to try to undermine the Affordable Care Act.”

Today, Sen. Warner filed a discharge petition on a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution that would roll back the 1332 waiver rule, another Trump Administration effort to sabotage Americans’ health care and undermine the critical pre-existing condition protections that 130 million Americans rely on. The rule gives states the green light to use taxpayer dollars to push junk health insurance plans that cost more and cover less. Under these plans, insurance companies can charge people more if they have a pre-existing condition, can deny specific benefits – or they can deny them coverage altogether.

“In Virginia alone – more than one million people live with a pre-existing condition. Before the Affordable Care Act, an insurance company had every right to deny these individuals coverage, charge them unaffordable premiums, or when they got that condition, terminate their plan. I think we all agree we cannot go back to those days. The Administration knows perfectly well that these ‘junk plans’ don’t offer real benefits. They’ve been warned repeatedly by hundreds of patient groups, physicians, hospitals, and insurers including the American Heart Association, AARP, The American Academy of Pediatrics, just to name few of the organizations who have come out against these plans,” Sen. Warner continued. “My Republican colleagues insist that they actually support protections for folks with pre-existing conditions. Ok, with this CRA I think there’s a chance to prove it. This resolution we are introducing today will force an up-or-down vote on these junk plans that explicitly undermine protections for pre-existing conditions. If my Republican colleagues truly support these protections, they should vote yes. It’s that simple.” 

Congressional Review Act resolutions exercise Congress’ authority to review and overturn rules implemented by the executive branch. Once a rule is finalized, the Congressional Review Act provides Congress 60 legislative days to vote on it. Unlike other legislation on the Senate floor, a Congressional Review Act resolution only needs a simple majority to pass and can be brought to the Senate floor for a vote with 30 signatures. As a result of the petition filed by Sen. Warner today, Senators must vote on overturning the rule by November 12.

 

Sen. Warner’s remarks as prepared for delivery can be found below:

Mr. President, I want to turn now to protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions, because these protections are under threat by this President.

Under the pretext of “short-term” plans, the Trump administration is pushing healthcare plans that once again allow insurance companies to discriminate against Americans based on their medical history.

These “junk plans” would also undermine the Affordable Care Act’s requirements that insurance cover things like emergency room visits, maternity care, and other essential benefits.

Let me be clear, this is not a law passed by Congress. The President tried and failed twice to pass legislation ending these protections.

Since they couldn’t get their way in Congress, now they’re using executive action to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

Mr. President, I’ve introduced a resolution under the Congressional Review Act, which would stop this deliberate effort to destabilize the health insurance market, and weaken protections that Americans count on.

And today I’m filing a discharge petition to that will bring this resolution to the Senate floor for an up-or-down vote.

The truth is, every member of this body knows someone with a pre-existing condition – if we don’t have one ourselves.

In Virginia alone – more than one million people live with a pre-existing condition. Before the Affordable Care Act, an insurance company had every right to deny those individuals coverage, charge them unaffordable premiums, or terminate their plan.

We cannot go back to those days.

The Administration knows perfectly well that these “junk plans” don’t offer real benefits.

They’ve been warned repeatedly by hundreds of patient groups, physicians, hospitals, and insurers — The American Heart Association, AARP, The American Academy of Pediatrics, the list goes on.

All of these stakeholders are telling us the same thing: the Trump Administration’s plan will weaken consumer protections and disproportionately hurt sick and older Americans.

My Republican colleagues insist that they actually support protections for folks with pre-existing conditions.

Ok, then. Here’s their chance to prove it.

This resolution we are introducing today will force an up-or-down vote on these junk plans that explicitly undermine protections for pre-existing conditions.

If my Republican colleagues truly support these protections, they should vote yes. It’s that simple.

Instead of undermining the stability of the healthcare market, let’s focus on targeted, bipartisan fixes that will bring down costs and expand access to affordable health care coverage.

Thank you, Mr. President.

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and co-founder of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, wrote to the CEO of TridentUSA Health Services today to ask about the company’s data security practices as they relate to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance. The letter comes in light of a report that MobileXUSA – an affiliate of TridentUSA Health Services – left an unencrypted server online, exposing the medical data of millions of Americans.

“It appears that the information held by MobileXUSA was made accessible due to sloppy cybersecurity practices— no software vulnerabilities were involved, and no explicit hacking was required,” wrote Sen. Warner. “While HIPAA lays out some guidelines for secure data storage and transfer, it is not always clear who bears responsibility for securing the data and ensuring the use of proper controls. However, it is certainly the responsibility of companies like yours to control and secure sensitive medical data, maintain an audit trail of medical images, and to ensure the information is not publicly accessible.”

According to recent reports, many unsecured picture archiving and communication servers (PACS) left the names, dates of birth, medical images, and medical procedures of more than one million Americans accessible to anyone with basic computer expertise. As part of the report, researchers identified 187 servers in the U.S. – including that of MobileXUSA – that were unprotected by passwords or basic security precautions.

In the letter to TridentUSA Health Services, Sen. Warner stressed the importance of protecting Americans’ privacy and personal health information. He also posed the following questions for TridentUSA Health Services:

  1. HIPAA requires audit trails for PACS, which stores the data in centralized auditing databases with multiple audit layers. What audit and monitoring tools do you use to analyze the data to remain HIPAA compliant? 
  2. PAC server vulnerabilities are well known, however, their use of the DICOM protocol makes them easily accessible via the Internet. DICOM also enables PACS to communicate with neighboring systems in a medical or clinical process within a network of IP-enabled devices. Does your company require neighboring systems to comply with current standards and use access management controls? 
  3. What are your identity and access management controls for IP-addresses and/or port filters?
  4. Do you require VPN or SSL to communicate with your PACS?
  5. What is the frequency of your vulnerability scans and HIPAA-compliant audits?
  6. What are your server encryption practices?
  7. Do you have an internal security team or do you outsource it?

Sen. Warner has been a champion for cybersecurity throughout his career, and has been an outspoken critic of poor cybersecurity practices that have led to the compromise of Americans’ personal information. Last week, Sen. Warner demanded answers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and South Korean company Suprema HQ, following separate incidents that affected both entities and exposed the personal, permanently identifiable data of many Americans. He also introduced legislation earlier this year to empower state and local government to counter cyberattacks, and to increase cybersecurity among public companies.

The letter text can be found below and a PDF is available here.

 

Andrei Soran, CEO

TridentUSA Health Services

930 Ridgebrook Rd.

Sparks Glencoe, MD 21152

Dear Mr. Soran,

It has come to my attention that one of your affiliated companies, MobileXUSA, recently left an unencrypted server online, exposing sensitive medical images and health data of Americans. According to recent reporting, researchers found 13.7 million data sets and 303.1 million images in medical image storage systems have been freely accessible online with no authentication requirements to access or download the images.  This left the MRI’s, X-rays, and CT scans of millions of Americans exposed on the internet, not because of a breach, but simply because they were stored on 187 unprotected picture archiving and communication servers (PACS) including yours.  Additionally, along with the sensitive medical images, according to the research, your server displayed the names of more than a million patients. 

My colleagues and I in the Senate have been concerned about negligent cybersecurity practices in the health care space for a long time. Cybersecurity risks within the health care sector represent a growing threat, with 285 breaches reported between January and June of this year.  According to one report, there has been at least one healthcare-related data breach a day since 2016.  Just recently, the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, of which I am a co-founder, convened a briefing that focused on healthcare and cybersecurity, particularly on the security of healthcare records which further highlighted the need for more robust cyber hygiene practices, and possibly additional standards.

It appears that the information held by MobileXUSA was made accessible due to sloppy cybersecurity practices— no software vulnerabilities were involved, and no explicit hacking was required. While HIPAA lays out some guidelines for secure data storage and transfer, it is not always clear who bears responsibility for securing the data and ensuring the use of proper controls. However, it is certainly the responsibility of companies like yours to control and secure sensitive medical data, maintain an audit trail of medical images, and to ensure the information is not publicly accessible.

To better understand how exactly millions of private medical scans were left open on the internet, I would appreciate your answers to the following questions:  

  1. HIPAA requires audit trails for PACS, which stores the data in centralized auditing databases with multiple audit layers. What audit and monitoring tools do you use to analyze the data to remain HIPAA compliant? 
  2. PAC server vulnerabilities are well known, however, their use of the DICOM protocol makes them easily accessible via the Internet. DICOM also enables PACS to communicate with neighboring systems in a medical or clinical process within a network of IP-enabled devices. Does your company require neighboring systems to comply with current standards and use access management controls? 
  3. What are your identity and access management controls for IP-addresses and/or port filters?
  4. Do you require VPN or SSL to communicate with your PACS?
  5. What is the frequency of your vulnerability scans and HIPAA-compliant audits?
  6. What are your server encryption practices?
  7. Do you have an internal security team or do you outsource it?

It is critical that the privacy of the individual– including their personal health information – is appropriately protected.  I look forward to hearing your response by October 9th, 2019. Any further questions can be directed to Leisel Bogan in my office at Leisel_Bogan@warner.senate.gov

Sincerely,

###

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released the following statement regarding the situation in the Middle East:

“Iran’s apparent attack on Saudi oil facilities represents a dangerous escalation by Iran. It is also a consequence of the Administration’s efforts to push Iran’s government into a corner where it has little to lose.

“Iranian violence cannot be rewarded and the U.S. must respond to attacks on our interests, but this Administration’s inconsistent and erratic policies are not making us safer. It is increasingly apparent that on Iran, the President has little credibility, few allies, and no plan.

“The U.S. must work with our European allies and regional partners to decrease the risk of violence from terrorism and Iranian proxies while ensuring that we do not launch ourselves into a disastrous Middle East war that would be catastrophic for our allies, the global economy and our young men and women in uniform. Doubling down on a failing strategy will get us nowhere.”

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today announced $23,185,283 in federal funding from the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) to support improvement projects at 11 airports.

“We’re excited to announce that these federal dollars will benefit 11 Virginia airports,” said the Senators. “We look forward to seeing how these grants will help improve safety and increase efficiency at airports all across the Commonwealth.”

  • Washington Dulles International Airport will receive $854,786 to support Voluntary Airport Low Emissions (VALE) infrastructure.
  • Manassas Regional Airport/Harry P. Davis Field will receive $3,513,300 to construct a taxiway, improve a runway safety area, and rehabilitate a runway.
  • Warrenton-Fauquier Airport will receive $150,000 to rehabilitate a taxiway and rehabilitate a runway.
  • Leesburg Executive Airport will receive $205,000 to construct an apron.
  • Richmond International Airport will receive $8,733,800 to construct a taxiway.
  • Lynchburg Regional Airport/Preston Glenn Field will receive $305,148 to rehabilitate and construct aprons, and rehabilitate a taxiway.
  • Norfolk International Airport will receive $3,591,524 to acquire land for approaches, install airfield guidance signs, rehabilitate taxiway lighting, rehabilitate a taxiway and acquire friction-measuring equipment.
  • Franklin Municipal-John Beverly Rose Airport will receive $90,000 to conduct a study.
  • Virginia Highlands Airport will receive $4,150,000 to extend a runway.
  • Luray Caverns Airport will receive $1,291,725 to construct an apron.
  • Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport will receive $300,000 to construct a taxiway and acquire safety and/or security equipment.

The funding was awarded through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airport Improvement Program (AIP), which supports infrastructure improvement projects at airports across the nation. Sens. Warner and Kaine have been strong advocates for greater infrastructure investments, including for Virginia’s airports. They have pushed back against the Trump Administration’s suggested budget cuts to DOT to help ensure that critical upgrades like these can happen. Earlier this year, Sen. Warner introduced a bill to strengthen our nation’s infrastructure, create jobs, and generate economic stimulus.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote to the U.S. Department of State to follow up on an Inspector General (IG) report that found the Department sent highly-trained bomb-sniffing dogs to foreign partner nations without proper follow-up to ensure they were receiving adequate healthcare. The IG found that as a result, at least 10 dogs trained to assist in fighting terrorism died in the Kingdom of Jordan from various medical problems, including largely preventable illnesses such as parvovirus and heat exhaustion. Many of the dogs were trained at a State Department-contracted facility located in Winchester, Va.

“The IG report outlined a series of problems in the program, which led to the premature deaths of many dogs due to preventable illness, lack of veterinary care, and poor working conditions. Overall, the report makes clear the Department of State is not adequately monitoring and protecting the canines it provides to these countries,” wrote Sen. Warner, a dog owner.

The State Department’s antiterrorism assistance program provides Explosive Detection Canines (EDCs) to foreign countries to support local law enforcement in deterring and countering terrorism. The program is primarily implemented by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Office of Antiterrorism Assistance, in partnership with the Bureau of Counterterrorism. Although the State Department previously relied on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to provide and train the bomb-sniffing dogs, in 2016, the State Department established its own canine training center, the Canine Validation Center (CVC) in Winchester, Va., which is responsible for procuring dogs, training foreign students as handlers, and conducting assessments to determine a country’s ability to care for the dogs and operate a canine program. In addition, the CVC is responsible for conducting health and welfare assessments in foreign countries.

As of September 2018, 100 dogs had been trained at the CVC and provided under the antiterrorism program to six partner nations. In addition, the State Department retains responsibility for approximately 70 dogs that had previously been trained and provided under the ATF program to seven countries.

The IG report found several deficiencies in the program, including:

  • The Bureau of Counterterrorism and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security “do not have mechanisms in place to ensure effective management of the health and welfare of canines in the EDC program” including an absence of policies, procedures, written standards for the department, or written agreements with partner nations to ensure the dogs’ health and safety.
  • The Department does not sufficiently monitor the trained canines that are provided to partner nations, including through follow-up visits and agreements that outline standards.
  • The treatment and care of the dogs in Jordan, where the majority of the dogs are sent, is of particular concern. Despite longstanding concern over the treatment and care of the dogs in Jordan’s care, at least 100 EDCs have been sent to Jordan since 2008. From 2008 through 2016, at least ten dogs died as a result of medical conditions.

The report found multiple instances of dogs that had been severely mistreated in Jordan, including Zoe, a 2-year-old female Belgian Malinois that died of heatstroke; Mencey, a 3-year-old male Belgian Malinois that was euthanized after she contracted two diseases spread by sandflies and ticks; and Athena, a 2-year-old female Malinois who made a full recovery in the United States after a State Department veterinary team conducted a site visit in Jordan and found her “severely emaciated” and housed in a kennel that was “covered in dirt and feces,” according to the IG. While the IG advised that the State Department cease providing canines to Jordan until “there is a sustainability plan in place to ensure canine health and welfare,” the State Department has not yet agreed to that recommendation.  

“The Department spends millions of taxpayer dollars in order to train the canines, provide appropriate veterinary care, and embed mentors in partner nations, among other expenses associated with the program. Yet once the dogs are deployed, many face mistreatment, malnutrition and unsafe facilities,” Sen. Warner wrote today. “I ask that you provide my office with a plan for how you will improve this program to protect taxpayer resources and ensure the safety and health of these highly-trained bomb-detection dogs.”

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

 

September 17, 2019

The Honorable Mike Pompeo

Secretary of State

U.S. Department of State

2201 C Street NW

Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Pompeo:

I am writing to express my concern over a recent State Department Office of Inspector General report, which documented the failure of the Department to protect highly skilled explosion-detection dogs trained by the U.S. government and deployed to Jordan, an important U.S. counterterrorism partner, and additional countries. 

Earlier this month, the Inspector General for the State Department released a report entitled, “Evaluation of the Antiterrorism Assistance Explosive Detection Canine Program – Health and Welfare,” which evaluated the Department’s program to provide Explosive Detection Canines (EDCs) to foreign countries for counterterrorism purposes. Many of these dogs were trained in the Canine Validation Center (CVC) in Winchester, Virginia.  As of September 30, 2018, the CVC had trained 100 dogs, which were sent to six foreign partner nations. In addition, 66-89 dogs trained by a pre-existing program run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) were still active in seven partner nations.  

The IG report outlined a series of problems in the program, which led to the premature deaths of many dogs due to preventable illness, lack of veterinary care, and poor working conditions. Overall, the report makes clear the Department of State is not adequately monitoring and protecting the canines it provides to these countries. Some specific findings from their investigation include the following:

  • The Bureau of Counterterrorism and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security “do not have mechanisms in place to ensure effective management of the health and welfare of canines in the EDC program” including an absence of policies, procedures, written standards for the Department, or written agreements with partner nations to ensure the dogs’ health and safety.
  • The treatment and care of the dogs in Jordan, where the majority of the dogs are sent, is of particular concern.
    • Despite longstanding concern over the treatment and care of the dogs in Jordan’s care, at least 100 EDCs have been sent to Jordan since 2008. From 2008 through 2016, at least 10 dogs died as a result of medical conditions including canine parvovirus and heat exhaustion.
    • The Department does not sufficiently monitor the trained canines that are provided to partner nations, including through follow-up visits and agreements that outline standards.

The Department spends millions of taxpayer dollars in order to train the canines, provide appropriate veterinary care, and embed mentors in partner nations, among other expenses associated with the program. Yet once the dogs are deployed, many face mistreatment, malnutrition and unsafe facilities.

I ask that you provide my office with a plan for how you will improve this program to protect taxpayer resources and ensure the safety and health of these highly-trained bomb-detection dogs. Should you have any questions, please contact Caroline Wadhams in my office at (202) 224-2023. 

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $4,259,670.65 in federal funding for fire safety across Virginia. The funding will be awarded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) programs.

“We’re pleased to announce funding to help fire departments across Virginia improve operations and safety as well as hire, recruit, and retain firefighters,” the Senators said.

The following Virginia fire departments will receive $2,471,502.50 in federal funding from the AFG program:

  • The Virginia Department of Fire Programs will receive $286,608.69 for the state fire training academy.
  • The Stuart Volunteer Fire Department will receive $103,619.04 for operations and safety.
  • The Chilhowie Fire Department will receive $137,638.09 for operations and safety.
  • The Virginia Beach Fire Department will receive $58,836.36 for operations and safety.
  • The Coeburn Fire Department will receive $150,095.23 for operations and safety.
  • The Woodstock Fire Department will receive $64,761.90 for operations and safety.
  • The Pembroke Volunteer Fire Department will receive $692,857.14.
  • The Amissville Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company, Inc. will receive $813,333.33.
  • The Carroll County Fire Rescue will receive $163,752.72.

The following organizations will receive $1,788,168.15 in federal funding from the SAFER program:

  • The Fairfax County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association, Inc. will receive $367,000 for recruitment and retention.
  • Clarke County will receive $622,145.75 for hiring firefighters.
  • The Colonial Heights Fire & EMS Department will receive $799,022.40 for hiring firefighters.

FEMA’s AFG program works to strengthen the safety of the public and firefighters by providing direct financial assistance to eligible fire departments, nonaffiliated Emergency Medical Services organizations, and State Fire Training Academies for critically-needed resources. The primary goal of SAFER is to enhance the local fire departments’ ability to comply with staffing, response, and operational standards. FEMA’s SAFER program specifically provides funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations to help them increase or maintain the number of trained firefighters in their communities.

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today applauded $284,142 in federal funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to boost innovation and skills training in the Town of Pulaski, and to provide direct technical assistance for initiatives that help develop local economies and infrastructures in Virginia’s 25 Appalachian counties and eight Appalachian cities

“As our economy continues to evolve, we need to make sure that we’re investing in workers across Appalachia and making sure they’re equipped with the skills they need to succeed in new industries,” said the Senators. “We are glad to know that these grants will help set the groundwork for important skills training and economic development in the region.”

  • The Town of Pulaski will receive $44,142 for a project that will help create a plan for a training center and makerspace. The center will seek to increase the number of workers trained in skills needed in the region and provide a location for innovators and entrepreneurs to work. The plan will also assess the potential for programming to include individuals not traditionally able or inclined to seek training such as those pursuing second careers, post-incarceration, or post-addiction.
  • The Virginia Department of Housing & Community Development will receive $240,000 to assist in the administration of the Virginia ARC program, which helps promote long- and short-term economic development, infrastructure development, skills training, telecommunications, local capacity building, entrepreneurial assistance, education, and health care in the Commonwealth’s 25 Appalachian counties and eight Appalachian cities. The funding will support direct technical assistance for initiatives in ARC communities, as well as the salaries and benefits for nine staffers.  

The funding was awarded through ARC, an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 420 counties in the Appalachian region. ARC's mission is to innovate, partner, and invest in the growth of new industries in Appalachia to diversify the region’s economy. Warner and Kaine have been strong advocates for a fully funded ARC so that it can continue to increase employment and economic opportunities for those living in Appalachia.

 ###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Doug Jones (D-AL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Bob Casey (D-PA) wrote to House and Senate leadership advocating for the inclusion of a permanent fix for miners’ health care and pensions in the short-term spending package that is currently being negotiated to keep the government open after September 30th, 2019.

“In July, we were alarmed to learn that 1,200 retired coal miners, their widows and their dependents would lose their health care benefits at the end of the calendar year. If we don’t take action now, these families in Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming, Alabama, Colorado, North Dakota and New Mexico will begin receiving health care termination notices at the end of October. Without congressional action to keep this from happening, they will spend their holiday season worrying about whether or not they will have to choose between their life-saving medications and putting food on the table,” wrote the Senators.

Currently, the 1974 UMWA Pension Plan is on the road to insolvency due to coal company bankruptcies and the 2008 financial crisis. Earlier this year, Sens. Warner and Kaine introduced the American Miners Act of 2019 to shore up the 1974 UMWA Pension Plan to make sure that 87,000 current beneficiaries and an additional 20,000 retirees won’t lose the pensions they have paid into for decades. In Virginia alone, there are approximately 7,000 retirees who are at risk of losing their benefits if Congress does not act. Additionally, the legislation would protect the 500 Virginians affected by the Westmoreland bankruptcy that has endangered health care benefits for additional miners and dependents.

In their letter, the Senators also request that congressional leadership extend the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund that finances medical treatment and basic expenses for miners suffering from black lung disease. 

“We are proud to cosponsor the American Miners Act (S. 27) which would protect and preserve not only these healthcare and pension benefits in perpetuity, but restore the Black Lung Trust Fund contribution rate to a much more sustainable level. During Senate consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the entire Democratic caucus cosponsored this bill. Unfortunately, we were blocked from even having a vote on that amendment,” continued the Senators.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have continued to advocate on behalf of Virginia’s coal miners and their families. In August 2018, they introduced and passed into law legislation to improve early detection and treatment of black lung disease among coal miners. The Senators also introduced legislation to make it easier for miners to access federal black lung benefits, make the benefit claims process fairer, and strengthen the benefits miners receive.

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

 

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

As negotiations continue around a short-term spending bill to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the fiscal year on October 1st, 2019, we urge you to honor the promises made to America’s coal miners and include permanent protections for the retiree health care and pension benefits they earned through a lifetime of hard work as well as an extension of the coal excise tax contribution rate that expired at the end of last year, threatening the solvency of the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund.

In July, we were alarmed to learn that 1,200 retired coal miners, their widows and their dependents would lose their health care benefits at the end of the calendar year. If we don’t take action now, these families in Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming, Alabama, Colorado, North Dakota and New Mexico will begin receiving health care termination notices at the end of October. Without congressional action to keep this from happening, they will spend their holiday season worrying about whether or not they will have to choose between their life-saving medications and putting food on the table. After all they have done for our country, the least we could do is keep our end of the bargain, honor the commitments that were made, and show them that we are thankful for the sacrifices they have made for our country.

In 1946, President Harry Truman ordered Secretary of the Interior Julius Krug to broker a deal to end a nationwide strike of coal miners. The subsequent agreement with the United Mine Workers of America guaranteed healthcare and pension benefits for coal miners with the full faith and credit of the United States Government. Unfortunately, due to numerous coal company bankruptcies and fundamentally flawed bankruptcy laws that allow corporations to shed their responsibilities to their workers, these very same federally guaranteed benefits are in jeopardy today.

We are proud to cosponsor the American Miners Act (S. 27) which would protect and preserve not only these healthcare and pension benefits in perpetuity, but restore the Black Lung Trust Fund contribution rate to a much more sustainable level. During Senate consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the entire Democratic caucus cosponsored this bill. Unfortunately, we were blocked from even having a vote on that amendment. 

We commend Speaker Pelosi and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) for advancing legislation to secure health care and pension benefits for our nation’s miners. On July 24th, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pensions Act of 2019 (H.R. 397) with bipartisan support. Congress must act to ensure millions of Americans in multiemployer pension plans do not see cuts to the pension benefits they have worked hard to earn. We must pass legislation to comprehensively address both the insolvency of troubled plans and of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

Also on July 24th, the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee held a legislative hearing on H.R. 934 and H.R. 935, bills that would permanently secure miners health care and pension benefits. The full committee is poised to vote on those bipartisan proposals this month.

Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, the U.S. Senate has not taken up any relevant legislation either in committee or on the floor all year. Because this is literally a life and death issue for thousands of families across this country, we urge you to include a permanent solution for miners healthcare and pension benefits in the short-term funding package that will ensure the continued operation of the U.S. government beyond September 30th, 2019, and we stand ready to work together in a bipartisan way to keep our promises to these great American families.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and former tech entrepreneur, wrote to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and South Korean company Suprema HQ, following separate but alarming incidents that impacted both entities and exposed Americans’ personal, permanently identifiable data. In a letter to CBP, Sen. Warner inquired about the information security practices of CBP contractors, in light of a June cyberattack that resulted in the theft of tens of thousands of facial images belonging to U.S. travelers. In a separate letter, Sen. Warner requested more information from Suprema HQ, the company that owns web-based biometric lock system, Biostar 2, which experienced a cyber incident in August, resulting in the exposure of permanently identifiable biometric data belonging to at least one million people worldwide.

“While all of the stolen information was sensitive and required protection, facial image data is especially sensitive, since such permanent personal information cannot be replaced like a password or a license plate number,” wrote Sen. Warner to Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan.  “It is absolutely critical that federal agencies and industry improve their track records, especially when handling and processing biometric data. Americans deserve to have their sensitive information secured, regardless of whether it is being handled by a first or a third-party.”

In June, CBP announced the theft of at least 100,000 traveler ID photos from a CBP subcontractor that had improperly transferred copies of these photos from CBP servers to its own company database. In addition to facial images, the cyberattack resulted in the theft of several gigabytes of data, including license plate photos, confidential agreements, hardware blueprints for security systems, and budget spreadsheets.

In the letter to CBP, Sen. Warner expressed alarm regarding the failure of federal agencies to ensure that Americans’ sensitive information is safe in the hands of contractors. He also asked CBP to provide timely answers to a series of questions regarding the information security practices of CBP contractors and subcontractors. Among these questions, Sen. Warner requested details on CBP’s third-party contractual requirements concerning database encryption, biometric data management, vulnerability management, logging data retention, and identity and access management, among other security measures.

Similarly, in his letter to Suprema HQ, Sen. Warner raised concerns about the Biostar 2 incident, which exposed permanently identifiable biometric data, including user photos.

“Unlike passwords, email addresses and phone numbers, biometric information in voices, fingerprints, and eyes are unique data that are impossible to reset. Biometric data can be used effectively for unauthorized surveillance and access to secure facilities, to steal identities, and is even valuable in developing deepfake technologies,” wrote Sen. Warner to Suprema HQ CEO James Lee. “It is my understanding that your customers use your biometric security system to provide access to secure facilities, and that the product has also been integrated into Nedap’s AEOS access control systems, which are used by at least 5,700 organizations in 83 countries, including banks and foreign law enforcement entities.  Given the sensitivity of this information, it is absolutely critical that companies like yours exercise exceptional due care when collecting and securing biometric information, and when contracting with customers that collect permanent personal information.”

The Biostar 2 breach resulted in the online exposure of more than one million fingerprint records, in addition to user images, personal details, usernames and passwords, and employee security clearances. The breach also revealed that large portions of the Biostar 2 database were unprotected and unencrypted. In the letter, Sen. Warner asked Suprema HQ to list which U.S. businesses are served by the company. He also requested more information on the company’s practices regarding server security, biometric data storage security, and database encryption.

Sen. Warner has been a champion for cybersecurity throughout his career, and has been an outspoken critic of poor cybersecurity practices that compromise Americans’ personal information. In May, Sen. Warner introduced bold legislation to hold credit reporting agencies accountable for data breaches. He also introduced legislation earlier this year to empower state and local government to counter cyberattacks, and to increase cybersecurity among public companies.

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) released a statement today following a decision by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to include Warren County in the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) Program:

“Despite increased public awareness about the dangers of opioids, this epidemic continues to devastate families all across the Commonwealth,” said the Senators. “We applaud the Office of National Drug Control Policy for including Warren County in the Washington/Baltimore HIDTA Program. We look forward to seeing these federal resources put to use to prevent future tragedies in Warren County as we continue working to channel additional federal dollars to fight this ongoing crisis.”

Opioid overdoses have surpassed car accidents and gun violence as the leading cause of accidental death in Virginia, with more than 1,500 overdose-related deaths in 2017. In Warren County alone, pharmacies distributed an average of 45 opioid pills per person, per year between 2006 and 2012.

HIDTA, a program created by Congress, is designed to facilitate law enforcement coordination at the federal, state, local, and tribal level in areas designated as critical drug-trafficking regions. In addition to facilitating law enforcement cooperation, HIDTA aims to enhance the sharing of intelligence among law enforcement agencies, facilitate the design of effective enforcement strategies and operations, and support coordinated law enforcement strategies in order to reduce the supply of illegal drugs in the United States.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have long advocated for increased federal funding to combat the opioid epidemic in Virginia. Last year, the Senators worked to successfully pass bipartisan legislation to help communities across Virginia by improving opioid treatment and recovery efforts and providing new tools for law enforcement. In 2016, Sens. Warner and Kaine also successfully advocated for the inclusion of other Virginia counties into HIDTA.

###