We have an opportunity to expand access to health care for Americans with the help of technology.
Senators Brian Schatz, Lisa Murkowski, and I have introduced a bipartisan bill to increase access to health care services in rural areas by investing in telehealth. This legislation would expand the use of technology-based education models – known as Project ECHO – that connect specialists with other health care professionals through the use of technology.
Specifically, the bill would create a program to provide grants and technical assistance to further develop and evaluate the ECHO model and other similar models. The grants would be used for:
• Equipment to support the use and expansion of the models, including for the secure exchange of electronic health information;
• Support for health care providers that provide services under these models;
• Instructional programming and training; and
• Information collection and evaluation activities to study the impact of such models.
This is about connecting rural and underserved areas in Virginia and across the nation with specialty care so we can better help those with substance use disorders, chronic diseases, and other complex health care conditions.
Senators introduce legislation to help first responders save money in retirement
U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), John Thune (R-SD), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced legislation to allow retired first responders to withdraw from their retirement without being penalized. The senators’ legislation would improve and reform the Healthcare Enhancement for Local Public Safety Act (HELPS) by changing state and local direct payment requirements from mandatory to optional and creating an alternative to the current method, allowing the retirement system to make the distribution to the retired public safety officer. The retiree can then make the premium payment to the provider and remain eligible for the tax exclusion.
“Ohio firefighters and other first responders wear their bodies out protecting our families and communities, and they shouldn’t have to worry about being penalized for withdrawing from retirement that they’ve earned,” said Senator Brown. “This is a simple solution that allows first responders to keep their own money and alleviate pressure on state and local governments.”
“We owe a great debt of gratitude to our retired police officers, firefighters, and other first responders who dedicated their lives to protecting our communities and keeping our friends, families, and neighbors across South Dakota safe,” said Senator Thune. “Currently, it is extremely difficult for retired first responders to utilize an existing benefit that helps cover certain health care expenses, which is why I introduced this legislation that would ensure these retirees can make tax-free withdrawals from their pension and direct those amounts to qualifying insurance premiums.”
“Virginia’s first responders put themselves at risk every day to protect our communities – the least we can do is ensure that they are taken care of in retirement,” said Senator Warner. “I’m proud to introduce the bipartisan Police and Fire Health Care Protection Act of 2022, which will make it easier for tens of thousands of retired officers – like Mr. Wally Bunker, a stalwart advocate and retired police officer from Culpepper – to claim the benefits that they have earned.”
“First responders play a vital role in our communities, addressing a variety of high-stress emergency situations throughout their careers. All first responders ought to be able to take advantage of a tax benefit that is intended to help them access health coverage in retirement,” said Senator Grassley.
In order to implement the direct payment requirement under current law, state and local retirement systems are now responsible for directly paying often numerous health and long-term care providers and keeping track of changes to premium amounts and payment deadlines for thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of retirees. This already challenging task is made even more difficult because providers will often communicate only with the retiree policyholder and not with the retirement system. Information does not flow seamlessly, and inadvertent errors are made. In addition, due to the complexity, some retirement systems have made the decision to not implement HELPS, thereby resulting in retired public safety officers covered by these pension plans being ineligible for the tax benefit.
“Too often, firefighters are forced to retire early and have no access to affordable health insurance. We owe it to our firefighters and EMS providers to help them access quality healthcare after making a career’s worth of physical and mental sacrifices for our communities,” said Edward Kelly, General President, International Association of Fire Fighters. “This legislation ensures our retired firefighters can access their hard-earned retirement income to pay for health insurance costs. The IAFF thanks Senators Brown, Thune, and Warner for their commitment to supporting our retirees and helping them to maintain a healthy and secure retirement.”
“In 2006, Congress enacted the HELPS Retirees Act, which provided a modest tax benefit to help retired public safety officers afford health insurance by allowing the use, on a pre-tax basis, of up to $3,000 annually from their pension funds health care and long-term care insurance,” said Patrick Yoes, National President, Fraternal Order of Police. “However, too many public safety officers were ineligible or lost their eligibility for this benefit because of the law’s ‘direct pay’ requirement. This means that the public pension system must pay the health or long-term care insurance company directly in order to exclude these payments from the employee’s gross income. Officers whose pensions are or came to be administered by third parties could not take advantage of this tax break. We are very grateful to Senators Brown and Thune for introducing legislation which repeals this direct pay requirement and provides a modest increase to the benefit.”
“On behalf of Ohio’s and the nation’s public safety personnel, we are grateful to Senator Brown for his leadership on this issue. The new legislation will ensure that first responders receive the assistance Congress intended them to receive with their health care expenses in retirement,” said Mary Beth Foley, Executive Director, Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund (OP&F).
Under the senators’ bill, plans that are able to implement HELPS through the current direct payment method, possibly because they have only one or two providers to pay and a small number of retirees, may continue to do so. However, for the many retirement systems that are experiencing administrative problems with the current requirement or have refused to implement HELPS because of the burdens, the senator’s legislation will allow them to make distributions to their retirees without rendering the retiree ineligible for the tax exclusion.
In cases where the distribution is made to the retiree, the legislation would require the retiree to include with their tax return an attestation that the amount sought to be excluded from the pension distribution does not exceed the amount paid by the employee for qualified health insurance premiums for the taxable year. The tax exclusion is capped under current law at $3,000 per year.
The bill has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Association of Police Organizations, and the International Association of Fire Fighters.
Warner and Kaine announce $6.2 million in federal funding for Virginia college readiness programs
U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $6,236,161 in federal funding for 15 Virginia schools for Upward Bound programs. Upward Bound, administered through the Department of Education, provides support to low-income and first-generation high school students in order to increase high school and college graduation rates.
“All students deserve access to the resources they need to succeed,” the senators said. “This funding for Upward Bound programs will support low-income and first-generation students through high school and help them prepare for higher education. This represents another critical investment in leveling the playing field so that more students have the tools to reach their goals and get ready for life after high school.”
The funding will be awarded as follows:
Patrick Henry Community College will receive $312,480 for programs, including tutoring, mentoring, and a summer bridge program. It will serve 68 students in Martinsville as well as Henry and Patrick Counties.
Norfolk State University will receive $297,485 for programs aimed at increasing students’ GPAs, standardized test scores, and retention and graduation rates. It will serve 60 students in Norfolk and Suffolk.
Virginia Tech will receive a total of $1,146,350 for programs, including financial aid application assistance, Pell Grant education, and course selection. It will serve 223 students across Southwest Virginia.
The University of Virginia’s College at Wise will receive $427,133 for programs, including tutoring, information on financial aid and alternative education programs, and college application support. It will serve 80 students across Southwest Virginia.
Virginia State University will receive $451,377 for academic and summer residential programs. It will serve 88 students across the cities of Hopewell and Petersburg and the counties of Dinwiddie, Greensville, Sussex, and the Matoaca District of Chesterfield.
James Madison University will receive $287,537 for programs including personal advising, college and cultural immersion experiences, and FAFSA education. It will serve 60 students across Northern Virginia.
Portsmouth Public Schools will receive $297,601 for programs, including an Individualized Educational Success Plan (IESP) for every recruited student. It will serve 60 students from I.C. Norcom and Manor High Schools.
Paul D. Camp Community College will receive $290,714 for programs, including supporting dual enrollment opportunities. It will continue serving Franklin, Lakeland, and Southampton High Schools.
Southwest Virginia Community College will receive a total of $685,387 for initiatives, including a Summer Discovery Program, study skills and time management workshops, and college and financial aid seminars. It will serve a total of 132 students across Grundy, Hurley, Twin Valley, Council, Castlewood, Honaker, and Lebanon High Schools.
Hampton University will receive $297,599 for programs, including SAT/ACT preparation workshops, financial literacy seminars, and tutoring. It will serve 60 students across Newport News.
Virginia Union University will receive $444,616 for programs, including Saturday supplementary education, summer residential components, and Individualized Academic Plan creation. It will serve 85 students across Armstrong, George Wythe, Huguenot, John Marshall, and Thomas Jefferson High Schools.
Rappahannock Community College will receive $287,537 for tutoring, counseling, cultural enrichment, and mentoring programs. It will serve 60 students from Essex County, Lancaster County, and Washington and Lee High Schools.
Wytheville Community College will receive $297,601 for programs, including service-learning opportunities, post-graduation bridge programs, and Wellness Wednesday workshops. It will serve 57 students across Southwest Virginia.
Old Dominion University will receive $400,571 for programs, including after-school tutoring, an intensive summer bridge experience, and college tours. It will serve 77 students across Norfolk and Portsmouth.
Virginia Highlands Community College will receive $312,173 for programs, including a Summer Academy, career advising and counseling, and cultural and social enrichment programs. It will serve 65 students from Chilhowie, Northwood, Holston, Patrick Henry, and Virginia High Schools.
This funding follows advocacy by both Sens. Warner and Kaine to increase funding for all TRIO programs – including Upward Bound – in a letter to the leadership of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations last year.
Warner & Kaine statement on bipartisan bill commemorate Moton Museum in Farmville becoming law
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On May 12, 2022, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement after their bipartisan bill to commemorate historic sites that catalyzed litigation leading to the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, was signed into law by President Biden:
“We’re excited our legislation to commemorate the Moton Museum in Farmville and other historic sites associated with the Brown v. Board of Education decision was signed into law today by President Biden,” said Senators Warner and Kaine. “This bill will preserve the site and help ensure future generations can learn about its significance, as well as the history of Barbara Johns, who led her classmates in a protest against school segregation at the Moton School.”
The Brown v. Board of Education National Historical Park Expansion and Redesignation Act will expand the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Kansas and designate National Park Service (NPS) Affiliated Areas in Delaware, South Carolina, Kansas, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Specifically, it will recognize the Moton Museum, formerly the Robert Russa Moton High School, in Farmville, Virginia, where Barbara Johns led a protest against school segregation and demanded better conditions for Black students. This designation would help protect the site.
The 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka transformed the United States, overruling Plessy v. Ferguson and striking down school segregation as unconstitutional. The Brown decision was a major catalyst of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
The bill unanimously passed the Senate and the House of Representatives in April. U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) led the Senate version of the bill. Representative Jim Clyburn (D-SC 6) led companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
Senators Warner and Kaine secured $500,000 in funding for critical facility upgrades at the Moton Museum in Farmville through the Fiscal Year 2022 omnibus appropriations bill, and supported efforts to honor Barbara Johns as one of Virginia’s two statues in the United States Capitol.
U.S. Senator Mark Warner: Senate’s failure to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, released the statement below after voting for a procedural motion to advance legislation to codify reproductive rights into law. The legislation failed to move forward by a vote of 49-51 after falling short of the 60-vote threshold needed to open debate on the bill.
“I’m gravely concerned by the Senate’s failure to codify Roe. For almost 50 years, women have had the right to make private medical decisions about their own reproductive health. If the Supreme Court does overturn Roe soon, women in many states will be stripped of their right to a safe abortion – including in cases of sexual assault, incest, or high-risk pregnancies. This is not what the majority of Virginians or Americans support, and it sets an extremely dangerous precedent for rolling back established rights. I’m extremely disappointed that the Senate chose inaction, but I’ll keep supporting measures to allow women to access the care they need.”
Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline – May 9, 2022
While I was home in Virginia this week for District Work Period, it was still a busy few days policy-wise. The week began with an unprecedented leak from the Supreme Court. While I was disturbed by the violation of this sacred institution’s confidentiality, I am hopeful that the court reaffirms the sanctity of life when it rules on Roe v. Wade later this summer. Further, this week, I introduced legislation with my colleagues to defund the Biden Administration’s recently announced “Disinformation Governance Board,” which is a gross federal overreach and an assault on the First Amendment. Additionally, I was pleased that the Department of Interior responded to calls from me and other Members of Congress to resume Park Police escorts for the Honor Flight Network, an organization dedicated to bringing Veterans to the war memorials recognizing their service. Finally, as the United States continues to face an economic downturn, I visited several small businesses and with other groups to ensure the voices of Sixth District residents are heard in Washington. It is an honor to serve the people of western Virginia, and I will continue fighting for the values that make our region a great place to live and raise a family.
Recently, in an unprecedented moment for the Supreme Court, a draft opinion was leaked, which indicates the High Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. This leak is of great concern, as the judicial process must be non-political and always be rooted in the letter of the law. A breach of this nature undermines the confidence the American people have in the Supreme Court, it erodes the trust the Justices have in one another, and it hurts the confidentiality necessary for the Court to discuss cases before them. This was a disgraceful attempt to leverage public pressure to influence the Justices, and it will now be used by the Left to try to end the filibuster and pack the Court with radical liberals. With that said, I will always seek to protect the sanctity of life, and I hope and pray that the Supreme Court will do so when it rules on the case later this year.
The Biden Administration’s decision to create a Disinformation Governance Board, or probably better known as the ‘Ministry of Truth,’ is dystopian in design, almost certainly unconstitutional, and clearly doomed from the start. The government has no role whatsoever in determining what constitutes permissible truth or acceptable speech, and further, the President’s choosing of Nina Jankowicz to serve as the Board’s Executive Director is of equal concern. Jankowicz, who refers to herself as the “Mary Poppins of Disinformation,” is a frequent purveyor of falsehoods, and appears sympathetic to the cause of censoring Americans. President Biden should dissolve this Board immediately, but assuming he won’t do so, my colleagues and I introduced legislation this week to bar federal tax dollars from funding it. Additionally, several Members of Congress also wrote to the Secretary of Homeland Security expressing our concerns that this Board’s creation is an alarming attempt by the Biden Administration to use the Department as a political tool. The full letter can be found here.
Honor Flight Network:
Since its founding in 2005, the Honor Flight Network has taken more than 250,000 World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, and terminally ill Veterans on an all-expense-paid trip to visit our Nation’s capital. Veterans visit – many for the first time – the very war memorials dedicated to their service to our country. During these trips, Veterans share memories and accounts from their time in service, pay tribute to their lost comrades, and build important bonds with fellow participants. Honor Flights Hubs meticulously plan these experiences to further the Honor Flight Network’s vision of a country where “all of America’s Veterans experience the honor, gratitude, and community of support they deserve.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the National Park Police halted their escorts of the groups’ buses. This made the trips far more difficult as parking near the memorials is limited, and many of the Veterans are handicapped. That is why my colleagues and I wrote to the Secretary of Interior requesting that Park Police once again be allowed to provide such escorts. Fortunately, following our letter, the decision was reversed, and escorts will resume on June 1. To read the full letter, click here.
Over the last two years, the CDC found the power to shut down the cruise ship industry, stop landlords from evicting tenants who had not paid their rent and required that people using public transportation wear masks. These actions were a gross federal overreach, and the CDC blatantly violated the law by using the Public Health Services Act as justification for these mandates. The interpretation of this statute was unconstitutional and egregious, and I recently asked Attorney General Garland why he was appealing a federal judge’s ruling specifically overturning the mask mandate.
President Joe Biden and House Democrats’ liberal policies and out-of-control government spending are driving the American economy off the cliff. Inflation is at a 40-year high, and according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, America’s GDP decreased at an annual rate of 1.4% in the first quarter of 2022. Instead of addressing the economic crisis they created, Biden and House Democrats continue to double down on their Far-Left policies and out-of-control spending. Gas prices have soared, grocery costs are through the roof, folks are spending more to heat/cool their homes, and now, interest rates are rising .5% – the highest one-time raise in over two decades. This means, on top of all of the other cost increases Americans are facing, folks will now pay more for home, auto, and business loans. Families are already struggling, and this is yet another example of how Biden’s broken economy will hurt their bottom lines.
Small Business Week:
As we celebrated National Small Business Week, I took time to visit small businesses in our area, such as Deb’s Frozen Lemonade in Cave Spring, to hear from owners like Keith Liles about how they’re handling the current economic downturn. Small businesses are vital to the economic success of our Nation, employing more than 61 million Americans or nearly 47% of the workforce. Further, small businesses create two-thirds of new jobs and deliver 43.5% of the United States’ GDP. As mom-and-pop shops continue to recover from COVID lockdowns and struggle to cope with inflation, I wanted to ensure I can take their concerns up to Washington. In Congress, I will continue fighting for pro-business policies that help spur economic growth.
As the Representative for Virginia’s Sixth District, one of my top priorities is making myself available to meet with constituents whether I’m here in the Commonwealth or in Washington. This week, I enjoyed visiting with small businesses, student groups, manufacturing facilities, and more.
Last week in Virginia, there was an average of 18.6 daily cases of COVID-19 per every 100,000 residents. This is up from an average of 15.3 cases from one week prior. This week’s positivity rate was 9.3%, up from an average of 7.8% last week. For more information, click here.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Congressman. If my office can ever be of assistance, please contact my Washington office at (202) 225-5431.
Warner & Kaine applaud administration’s new efforts to lower internet costs
On May 9, 2022, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine applauded President Biden’s announcement of new efforts to lower high-speed internet costs for Virginians and all Americans, including commitments from 20 internet providers to either increase speeds or cut prices to no more than $30/month for Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)-eligible households. Warner and Kaine helped create the ACP, which was established by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Warner negotiated, and they both voted to pass. 1,908,000 or 23% of people in Virginia will be eligible for the ACP.
“We’ve made great progress in expanding broadband in Virginia, but too many Virginians still face challenges in accessing the internet due to high costs. These steps to lower internet costs for families are critical to address that gap. We’re glad the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will help more families stay connected with friends and loved ones, access telehealth services, and find job and educational opportunities online,” said Senators Warner and Kaine.
Specifically, the ACP program provides a $30 per month discount, or $75 per month for households on tribal lands, for low-income families to use toward any internet service of their choosing. The commitments from the 20 internet providers will mean tens of millions of ACP-eligible households will receive high-speed internet at no cost. Households can also receive a one-time $100 discount for a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet. Eligible households must have an income at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or have a family member that meets at least one of these criteria outlined by the Federal Communications Commission. Virginians can go to GetInternet.gov to sign up for the ACP and find participating providers in their area.
As Governors and Senators, Warner and Kaine have long supported expanding broadband access in Virginia. During the pandemic, they secured significant funding for broadband through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the December 2020 government funding bill, which included COVID relief, and the American Rescue Plan. They also introduced legislation to help students access the internet at home. The Fiscal Year 2022 government funding bill supported by Warner and Kaine included $550 million to expand access to broadband and $450 million for the ReConnect program to help rural communities access the internet.