With the President’s signature on the bipartisan border security deal, the Trump shutdown mess is over, for now. Sen. Warner voted to keep the government open, as he had consistently throughout the funding debate. Now that the Senate has adjourned for the President’s Day recess, he heads out for a road trip across Virginia next week.
The President signed into law this afternoon the bipartisan funding and border security bill, averting another disastrous government shutdown.
The legislation fully funds the government through September 30th and includes numerous provisions the Senators championed to benefit Virginia, including a salary boost for federal workers and more funding for Chesapeake Bay restoration.
Sens Warner and Kaine released the following statement on the government funding bill becoming law.
“We’re relieved hundreds of thousands of federal employees won’t have to go without pay again because of President Trump’s determination to shut the government down, but these hardworking public servants are sick of us lurching from crisis-to-crisis every couple weeks,” said the Senators. “While we’re glad this bipartisan package includes many key Virginia priorities, it’s inexcusable that it does not include back pay for federal contractors, who are still hurting from the last shutdown. We hope Congress will finally pass legislation to address this issue.”
On the President’s national emergency declaration for border wall funding, the Senators said,
“We made significant investments in border security done the right way, and there’s no good reason President Trump should do a political power grab for more. When national security leaders brief us on the big security threats against our nation, they are not asking us for a wall. The President is just saying this is an emergency so he can get his vanity project, and it’s deeply concerning that he’s trying to build it by pulling from military construction funds, which is money that should be going toward projects like fixing military family housing and making security improvements to our bases.”
Click here for a list of the many provisions Sens. Warner and Kaine supported on behalf of Virginia that were included in the appropriations bill.
Before the vote on the funding bill, Sen. Warner took to the Senate floor to call on his colleagues to pass legislation providing back pay for low and middle-income federal contractors.
After the vote, Sen. Warner vowed to continue fighting to pass his contractor back pay bill, as well as legislation — such as Sen. Warner’s Stop STUPIDITY Act — which would end the practice of government shutdowns.
Sen. Warner also introduced legislation this week that attempts to undo some of the financial hardship facing federal workers and contractors harmed by the shutdown. The Protect Federal Workers’ Credit Act would protect the credit reports of federal workers and contractors who were hurt by the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.
This bipartisan bill would require credit bureaus to remove negative information that was placed on the credit reports of federal workers and contractors who missed payments as a result of a government shutdown. The bill would apply to the recent shutdown and any future government shutdowns.
OUT OF TIME
On the Senate floor this week, Sen. Warner urged his Senate colleagues to take immediate action to ensure that 1,200 retired coal miners—500 of whom live in Virginia—do not lose their healthcare coverage by the end of the month.
In his remarks, Sen. Warner asked Senate leaders to protect miners who risk losing crucial benefits if a bankruptcy court allows the Colorado-based Westmoreland mining company to shed its obligations to provide healthcare to retirees. Sen. Warner joined several colleagues on the floor to urge passage of the American Miners Act, legislation that would secure pensions and healthcare benefits for the nation’s retired coal miners.
“We’ve got a crisis right now,” Sen. Warner said on the floor. “We talked about the Westmoreland bankruptcy, 1,200 miners. Five hundred of those live in Virginia. If we can’t get a solution on this deal right now on the American Miners Act, then a lot of those miners and their families are going to go without relief, because their day of reckoning is already upon us.”
The bill would also stabilize the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund that provides critical benefits for retirees suffering from this deadly disease. More than 25,000 coal miners and their dependents rely on the fund, but Congress needs to act to renew funding for the program. Failure to renew the tax that supports the fund would be particularly devastating for coal miners in Southwest Virginia, who have been disproportionately affected by an advanced form of the disease known as complicated black lung.
PARKS AND LEGISLATION
This week, the Senate passed a bipartisan public lands bill that permanently reauthorizes the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This permanent funding is key to preserving and protecting Virginia’s rich history and beautiful landscapes. By providing long-term security for this critical program, communities across the Commonwealth will be able to continue caring for our natural resources and history for future generations to enjoy.
The LWCF provides states and local communities with technical assistance, recognition, and funding to help preserve their own history and create close-to-home recreation opportunities. In the span of four decades, Virginia has received more than $350 million in LWCF funding to protect dozens of national parks, wildlife refuges, forests, trails and more. This bipartisan package is supported by dozens of conservation and recreation organizations, including the National Wildlife Federation, the League of Conservation Voters, the Outdoor Industry Association, and the Nature Conservancy.
The lands package also reauthorizes the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Grant Program, which support the preservation of sites on HBCU campuses that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Last year, Virginia Union, Hampton University, Virginia State, and Virginia University of Lynchburg received grants totaling $2.27 million under the HBCU grant program.
In addition, the bill includes language Sen. Warner supported with Senator Kaine and the entire Virginia delegation, which designates the George C. Marshall Museum and Research Library in Lexington as the National George C. Marshall Museum and Library.
Senator Warner also re-introduced legislation this week, the Restore Our Parks Act, that would make the largest investment in history in our national parks. Years of chronic underfunding have left our national parks with a whopping $11.6 billion maintenance backlog.
This bipartisan bill, which Sen. Warner introduced with Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Angus King (I-ME), would use existing revenues from mineral leases collected by the Department of the Interior to address approximately $5.6 billion of the highest-priority maintenance projects at national parks around the country. The legislation has the support of the Trump Administration, as well as a number of conservation groups and advocates for National Parks.
Currently, national parks in Virginia have a deferred maintenance backlog of more than $1 billion, ranking third behind only California and the District of Columbia in total deferred maintenance. For a detailed park-by-park breakdown of Virginia’s backlog, click here.
Over 100 organizations, including the National Association of Counties, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the Pew Charitable Trusts, have announced their support for the Restore our Parks Act.
Some highlights from the past week:
• NO ON BARR: In a floor speech, Sen. Warner expressed his opposition to the President’s Attorney General nominee, William Barr. He later voted against the Barr nomination in the final Senate vote.
• PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS: Sens. Warner, Cardin, Shaheen, and Baldwin introduced the Protecting Americans with Pre-existing Conditions Act, legislation that would prevent the Trump Administration from promoting “junk” health care plans that lack protections for people with pre-existing conditions and would increase health care costs for millions of Americans.
• Artificial Intelligence: Sen. Warner, Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, issued a statement on the promise of artificial intelligence technologies while warning against laissez-faire policies put forward by the Trump Administration.
• FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA: Sen. Warner, along with every Democratic member of the Virginia Congressional Delegation, co-signed a letter opposing seismic testing off the coast of Virginia. The seismic testing permits issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which had been denied under the Obama Administration, are one step in the Trump Administration’s plan to open up the coastal waters off Virginia to potential oil and gas drilling.
• STUDENT DEBT: Sens. Warner and John Thune (R-SD) introduced legislation to help Americans tackle their student loan debt.
• SUPPORTING TEACHERS: Sen. Warner alongside a bipartisan delegation introduced the Teacher and School LEADERS Act, a bill which will reform Teacher Quality Partnership Grants to better support school leaders and allow for greater innovation in educator preparation.
• RAPTORS: Sens. Warner and Kaine were joined by every member of the Virginia Congressional delegation in urging U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson to relocate an additional F-22 squadron to Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton Roads after Hurricane Michael severely damaged the air force base in Florida where the planes had previously been based.
Senator Warner will be traveling through Virginia next week, holding events in Blacksburg, Salem, Hardy, Martinsville, Danville, Lynchburg, and Charlottesville. The Senate is out of session until Monday, February 25.
Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline – October 18, 2020
It was another beautiful fall week here in Virginia’s Sixth District. I enjoyed the opportunity to meet with constituents across the region both in person like at Sweet Briar College and virtually. This week we also saw some excitement out of Washington as the Senate Judiciary Committee began the confirmation process of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Further, while negotiations for another coronavirus aid package between the White House and Speaker continue, I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight the significant relief this Administration has provided to the people of the Commonwealth. And finally, as the deadline for nomination applications to the U.S. Service Academies approaches, be sure to find more information below if you or someone you know is interested in applying. As the House continues its District Work Period, I look forward to another week of meeting folks across the District.
Expansion at Sweet Briar:
It was a pleasure to join President Woo and other Sweet Briar College faculty to tour the school’s new state-of-the-art health clinic this week. In partnership with Centra Health and Horizon Behavioral Health, this facility will enable the college to expand COVID-19 testing and other wellness activities on campus. The clinic is part of Sweet Briar’s commitment to keeping its campus safe at this challenging time. The college currently has no active COVID-19 cases among students, faculty, or staff members, and have mindfully managed the few cases that have occurred since the onset of classes seven weeks ago. Sweet Briar has taken to heart public health recommendations and developed protocols to navigate the pandemic, including individual behaviors and institutional operations. SBC should serve as a shining example to other institutions of higher education as to how to safely reopen.
Confirming Judge Amy Coney Barrett:
This week the Senate Judiciary Committee began to hold confirmation hearings on the President’s nominee to the Supreme Court. Based on her record and testimony thus far in front of the committee, I am confident that Judge Amy Coney Barrett will make a tremendous Supreme Court Justice. Her experience serving on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals shows that she is a true Constitutionalist who understands that a Justice is meant to interpret the laws, not make them. Because Judge Barrett is an outstanding jurist who is eminently qualified to be on the Supreme Court, Democrats have instead decided to attack her faith and are pushing the falsehood that she will strip healthcare away from the American people. This is despite the fact that the American Bar Association – an organization repeatedly called the “gold standard” by Senator Schumer – has deemed Judge Barrett “well qualified”. Even commentators on CNN said that if this were a different time and Judge Barrett was appointed by a different President, she would be confirmed with 70+ votes because of her credentials. It is time Democrats stop playing politics with this confirmation process and consider Judge Barrett’s merits when voting on her nomination.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, government at every level has been working vigorously to provide individuals, businesses, schools, and healthcare facilities with the resources they need to navigate these trying times. Aside from the five pieces of coronavirus relief legislation already signed into law, this Administration has also been dedicated to providing aid directly to the states. Below please find just a few of the many examples of how the federal government has provided direct relief to the Commonwealth of Virginia.
• This year, over 2.9 M N-95 masks, 25.7 M surgical & procedural masks, 1.1 M eye and face shields, 8.1 M isolation & surgical gowns, and 630.8 M medical gloves have been shipped to Virginia through the private sector, State, and Federal collaboration.
• The Federal government has directly supported 35 community-based testing sites in Virginia and will be providing 295,000 swabs to support state testing needs in the month of October. Through October 7, the Federal government has provided 1,527,980 swabs.
• On September 28th, President Trump announced the Administration will send 100 million BinaxNOW rapid point-of-care tests to States free of charge. 2,570,000 BinaxNOW tests have been allocated for distribution to Virginia with 363,200 tests delivered to date.
• Medical facilities and providers in the Commonwealth of Virginia have received over $3 B in COVID19 related allocations from HHS. This includes more than $2.5 B from the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund to support healthcare-related expenses or lost revenue attributable to COVID-19 and ensures uninsured Americans can get testing and treatment for COVID-19.
• In Virginia, the Small Business Administration (SBA) issued over $12.5 B in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to 114,570 small businesses as well as $3.8 B in Economic Injury Disaster Loans to 71,437 small businesses. The U.S. Department of the Treasury has made 3.9 M Economic Impact Payments totaling more than $6.6 B to hardworking taxpayers of Virginia.
• The U.S. Department of Agriculture provided Virginia agriculture producers with $97 M in financial assistance for price declines and additional marketing costs due to COVID-19.
(B = Billion, M = Million, K = Thousand)
Data as of October 9, 2020
Service Academy Nominations:
One of the greatest honors I have serving as the Representative for Virginia’s Sixth District is the privilege of nominating individuals to one of four United States Service Academies. Applicants to the U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy, and U.S. Merchant Marine Academy require a recommendation from a Member of Congress or another nominating authority. Those interested in a nomination must have their application postmarked by October 23. For more information and to find the required application packet, please click here.
Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans:
In June 2019, the president signed H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, of which I was a proud cosponsor. For decades, tens of thousands of veterans suffering from diseases caused by Agent Orange in the Vietnam War and their families had been denied their earned benefits under the Agent Orange Act of 1991. However, the provisions in this new law ensure veterans who served in specified offshore areas near Vietnam from January 9, 1962, through May 7, 1975, are now given the presumption of Agent Orange exposure, thus allowing them to receive medical care and disability compensation. Since becoming law, the National Archives and Records Administration and the Veterans Affairs Administration have digitized more than 1,800 vessels’ deck logs, which are critical in determining qualifying ship locations in accordance with the law. Since January, the VA has approved 22,524 claims of sailors exposed to Agent Orange and have identified at least 420,000 others who may qualify. If you were in the Navy or Coast Guard serving off the shores of Vietnam during the war, please click here to file a claim or to learn about your eligibility to do so.
If my office can ever be of assistance, please contact my Washington office at (202) 225-5431.
Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline – October 16, 2020
As fall arrives there are few more beautiful places than Virginia’s Sixth District. I thoroughly enjoyed being home and having the opportunity to meet with constituents and listen to their thoughts and concerns. In Front Royal, I met with members of the American Legion Post 53, and in Salem and Roanoke, I talked with folks from VDOT and then received donations at a local food bank.
This week I also hosted a virtual higher education roundtable with academic leaders from across our region, as well as chat via Zoom with our District’s nominee for the Angels in Adoption program. And while I may be home in Virginia, please know I will keep you apprised should there be any update relating to COVID-19 relief legislation in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I look forward to meeting with those I am honored to represent as I continue traversing the Sixth District.
Second Annual Higher Education Round Table:
Virginia’s Sixth District is home to more institutions of higher education than nearly any other district in the country. With more than 20 colleges and universities within our borders, students from across the United States flock to the Sixth District to pursue their education. For this reason, it is critically important that I foster an open dialogue between myself and our region’s schools to ensure that I am best representing their and our students’ interests on the House Education and Labor Committee. That is why I hosted my Second Annual Higher Education Roundtable, which was attended by representatives from 15 schools throughout the District. We discussed a wide array of topics ranging from college affordability, 21st-century learning, and of course, how their institutions are adapting to meet the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. A common theme echoed by many of the school officials was an appreciation for Congress’ creation of the Paycheck Protection Program as well as expressing their desire that any future coronavirus legislation includes liability protections for their institutions to safeguard against frivolous lawsuits. It was a thorough and thoughtful conversation, and I hope to continue these sorts of productive forums in the future.
The Sixth District is in dire need of resources to modernize its aging infrastructure and relieve the congestion bottlenecks that afflict our highways – particularly Interstate-81. That’s why over the past two years I have advocated for Federal funding for our area by testifying before the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and also by speaking on the House Floor. I will continue to fight for our District’s fair share of Federal funding throughout the duration of my tenure in Congress, and for this reason, I have been meeting regularly with regional administrators from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to better understand the specific needs of our area. Just this week I met with VDOT engineers at the Regional Traffic Operations Center in Salem to discuss the importance of improving safety measures along the I-81 corridor. Further, it was great to see the outstanding work they are already doing to make much-needed improvements to our area highways and bridges.
Angels in Adoption:
Each year, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) accepts nominations for individuals, families, or organizations across the Nation who have demonstrated a commitment to improving the lives of children in need of permanent, loving homes. The individuals nominated by Members of Congress and then selected from across the country by CCAI are bestowed with the title “Angels in Adoption” for their work. This year I had the honor of nominating the Janney family from Roanoke, who have become tireless advocates for adoption after bringing their daughter into their home two years ago. This week, I had the privilege of meeting with the Janney’s to discuss their journey and greatly appreciated their suggestions on how Congress can cut red-tape in regard to international adoption to help bring families together in a timelier manner.
Last week I was pleased to join folks at the Giles B. Cook American Legion Post 53, in Front Royal, to accept a Certificate of Appreciation for my office successfully resolving an issue the Post was having with a federal agency. I share this not to highlight the award, but to use this opportunity to remind Sixth District residents that my office is always available should you require any assistance when dealing with the federal government. The dedicated caseworkers in my District offices are committed to aiding constituents while navigating the federal bureaucracy. For more information, please visit my website or call any of my District offices listed at the bottom of this page.
Feeding the Hungry:
On Thursday, I joined volunteers at the Feeding Southwest Virginia in Roanoke to receive a 20,000lb donation of non-perishable food made by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church also made an identical donation to the Rockbridge Christmas Basket Program. Our community is forever grateful for this generosity, which will aid countless families in need.
Supporting Local Farmers and Ranchers:
Since being sworn into Congress, I have worked to support those in the agriculture industry, which is why I recently cosponsored the Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption (PRIME) Act. This legislation would make it easier for small farms and ranches to serve local consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic by giving individual states the ability to allow intrastate distribution of meat processed in custom-exempt facilities such as beef, pork, or lamb to consumers and grocery stores. Though many farmers and ranchers are able to maintain normal production levels at the moment, bottlenecks and disruptions in the food supply chain have made the distribution to everyday consumers incredibly challenging. Currently, in order to sell individual cuts of locally-raised meats to consumers, farmers and ranchers must first send their animals to one of a limited number of USDA or federally-compliant slaughterhouses. These slaughterhouses are sometimes hundreds of miles away, which adds substantial transportation and labor costs, makes workers more vulnerable, and subjects the entire supply system to major disruptions should an outbreak occur in a plant or its surrounding region. The PRIME Act would expand the current custom exemption, and allow states to empower small farms, ranches, and slaughterhouses to reduce waste and provide much-needed food to communities here in Virginia and across the nation.
Last week, the White House and Congressional Republicans tried to strike a COVID-19 relief deal with Speaker Pelosi for $1.6 trillion, but she refused to negotiate in good faith. Instead, she forced through a bloated, partisan $2.2 trillion bill that barely passed when 18 of my Democrat colleagues voted alongside Republicans against the measure. This was after Senate Democrats blocked two relief bills that would have provided immediate aid to the American people. In an effort to provide targeted relief to those struggling, the President has urged Congress to send him standalone bills that he could sign such as authorizing another round of $1,200 Emergency Relief Checks and extending the Paycheck Protection Program. It is my hope that Speaker Pelosi will put people above politics and bring individual legislation like this to the House Floor.
Economic Impact Payments:
The IRS announced this week that the deadline to register for an Economic Impact Payment, also known as an Emergency Relief Check, is now November 21, 2020. This new date will provide an additional five weeks beyond the original deadline. The IRS urges people who don’t typically file a tax return – and haven’t received an Economic Impact Payment – to register as quickly as possible using the Non-Filer Tool here. More information can be found at irs.gov.
If my office can ever be of assistance, please contact my Washington office at (202) 225-5431.
Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline – October 4, 2020
In what was likely the last legislative week in Washington before November’s elections, the House was back in full swing conducting the business of the people. Recognizing good policy proposals regardless of party, I cosponsored Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s (D-HI) recently introduced legislation aimed at protecting our elections. Unfortunately, Speaker Pelosi does not share our attitude of bipartisanship, and I was disappointed that she rammed through a Democratic wish list masquerading as a COVID-19 aid package.
This week I stood in defense of the First Amendment and religious liberty by sending a letter to Attorney General Barr urging him to investigate the mistreatment of churches and their congregations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, after having been regularly frustrated by the legislative processes these past 21 months, I offered my suggestions to the House Rules Committee on ways in which our chamber can operate in a more transparent and accountable manner. Additionally, I took to the House Floor on Wednesday to honor New Freedom Farm in Buchanan for the work they do supporting our veterans. It was a busy week, and I am very much looking forward to returning to the Sixth District for the month of October. I hope to have the opportunity to chat with as many constituents as possible over the next few weeks. And finally, I’d also like to take a moment to extend my thoughts and prayers to the President and First Lady as they battle COVID-19.
New Freedom Farm:
Protecting our Elections:
The heart of our democratic republic lies in the integrity of our elections. For that reason, I cosponsored H.R. 8285, the Election Fraud Prevention Act, which was introduced by Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI). This bill would amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to prohibit payments to States that permit ballot harvesting. Currently, depending on the state or locality, voters have the option of mailing their ballot, leaving their ballot in a dropbox, having their ballots collected and submitted by a third party, or returning them at the polls or a local election office. The Election Fraud Prevention Act ensures that voters seeking to turn in their absentee ballots may only be assisted by an election official or mail carrier acting in their official capacities as well as family members, household members, or caregivers. This legislation will help ensure our elections remain free and fair, and I am proud to join my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in supporting this bill.
Defending Religious Freedom:
In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many state and local governments have taken appropriate action to implement temporary health and safety guidelines to mitigate the risk the virus poses to our communities. However, the country has seen a concerning number of cases where misguided efforts have resulted in an intolerable infringement on the constitutional First Amendment rights of churches, their congregations, and other religious entities. That is why I joined my colleagues this week in writing to Attorney General Barr urging the Department of Justice to investigate possible violations of the First Amendment and remain vigilant in the preservation of our rights and protection of religious liberties for all Americans. To read the full letter, click the graphic below.
COVID-19 Legislative Update:
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress has authorized trillions of dollars in aid to help struggling families and businesses. However, as our Nation continues to deal with the effects of the coronavirus, there is no denying that the American people are in need of additional relief. Unfortunately, for months, Democrats have stood in the way of multiple attempts to provide targeted aid to those most in need. And sadly, as November approaches, Speaker Pelosi decided this week to introduce a partisan $2.2 trillion coronavirus bill that included poison pills that prevented it from attracting bipartisan support. Instead of actually working with Republicans, the Speaker instead decided to pass an election year messaging bill that has no chance of being signed into law. Some of the most egregious provisions contained in the bill include:
• Fails to provide sensible liability protections to businesses, hospitals, and schools to protect them from frivolous lawsuits
• Allows illegal immigrants to receive direct stimulus payments
• Mandates a blanket release for certain covered federal prisoners and alleged criminals
• Uses taxpayer dollars to bail out failing multiemployer pension plans while failing to include any needed reforms to fix the problem
• Federalizes elections, by including stringent, impossible to achieve mandates on how states must run elections
• Bails out poorly run states and localities to the tune of $436 billion (Almost 1/5 of the bill’s total spending)
• Defunds the police by removing $600 million from the original Heroes Act intended for the COPS Hiring program
Many of the House Rules that are in place provide the necessary transparency and accountability in the legislative process, but sadly, these rules are often worked around or waived when it matters most. For this reason, I testified before the Rules Committee to express my thoughts on how our Chamber could practice better governance moving forward. First and foremost, we need to ensure that both legislators and the American people have adequate time to review bills before they are voted on.
That is why I took this opportunity to discuss with Committee members my proposal to institute the 48-Hour Bill Review Resolution. Additionally, I urged the Committee to once again allow bills to be brought to the Floor under an “Open Rule”. This would enable Members to have greater input on legislation before it is voted on by allowing them the opportunity to offer an amendment to a bill outside the committee process. No piece of legislation has been considered under an Open Rule in nearly four years, despite this practice having been commonplace in Congress for decades. And finally, I stressed to the Members of the Rules Committee the importance of individual bill consideration when it comes to appropriations measures. Far too often Members are asked to vote on massive packages that contain multiple programs that are wholly unrelated to one another, which makes it difficult to responsibly and thoughtfully consider legislation. I am hopeful that these rule changes will be implemented in the 117th Congress.
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.
Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline – September 20, 2020
After months of Speaker Pelosi keeping the House in recess due to COVID-19, we finally returned to regular order this week to conduct the business of the people. Aside from passing important legislation in the Judiciary Committee, particularly one bill related to Alzheimer’s, the House also resumed a full schedule of votes before the whole House. I also took to the Floor this week to support our brave law enforcement officers and to call for the restoration of the Rule of Law in our communities. Additionally, we saw exciting news from the White House as a historic Middle East peace deal was signed on the South Lawn. And finally, on Tuesday, I joined my Republican colleagues on the steps of the Capitol as we laid out our Commitment to America.
Supporting Law Enforcement:
Over the past several months, we have heard politicians, pundits, and riot participants vilifying our Nation’s law enforcement officers – brave men and women who have sworn an oath to protect and serve their communities. This week, following the tragic ambush of two LA County Sheriff’s Deputies, I took to the House Floor to call for the restoration of the Rule of Law in our country and urged my Democrat colleagues to stop using hateful, violent rhetoric when speaking about police officers. Since the beginning of the year, 193 members of law enforcement have been killed in the line of duty. We cannot continue to dishonor their memory by advocating that we dismantle or disband police departments.
Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States and more than 5 million Americans are currently suffering from it. And while medical advancement has led to a decrease in the number of deaths for many illnesses, Alzheimer’s is unfortunately not one of them. Over the past 20 years, deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased a startling 146% and nearly 1 in 3 seniors die from it or another dementia-related illness. That is why I was pleased this week that the Judiciary Committee passed H.R. 6813, the Promoting Alzheimer’s Awareness to Prevent Elder Abuse Act, the legislation of which I am a cosponsor. This bill would require the Department of Justice to develop training materials to assist professionals in supporting victims of abuse living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. This legislation is crucial to ensuring our Nation’s seniors are receiving the quality care they deserve. As World Alzheimer’s Day approaches next week, it is my hope that Speaker Pelosi will call this bill for a vote in front of the whole House. To learn more about H.R. 6813, please click here.
Commitment to America:
This week, I joined my Republican colleagues on the Capitol steps as we formally unveiled our caucus’ “Commitment to America”. This plan calls for restoring our way of life, rebuilding the greatest economy in the world, and renewing the American Dream. Our vision for our Nation differs drastically from that of the Democrats, which promotes a message of defund, dismantle, and destroy. To learn more about our “Commitment to America,” click here.
Promoting Peace in the Middle East:
This week, President Trump, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, and King Hamad Al Khalifa signed the Abraham Accords at the White House, normalizing relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. This historic agreement is the most significant step toward peace in the Middle East in more than 25 years, and it will bring about greater stability to the region while also increasing pressure on America’s adversaries. To read more about this notable agreement, click here.
Coronavirus Food Assistance Program:
From the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, this Administration has been committed to supporting our Nation’s producers – most notably through the Department of Agriculture’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. Since April, this program has provided critical support to farmers and ranchers, helped maintain the integrity of our food supply chain, and ensured that every American continues to receive and have access to the food they need. This week, the President announced that the program would be expanded and receive an additional $14 billion beginning September 21. To learn more or to apply for assistance, please click here.
While vaccines typically take years to produce, the world’s leading scientists and researchers are hard at work to develop an effective COVID-19 vaccine at record speeds. There are currently 9 vaccines in Phase 3 of clinical trials meaning they are undergoing large-scale efficacy testing, and 5 have even been approved for early and limited use. The medical community is hopeful that we can have a large-scale vaccine approved by early next year. To learn more, click here.
Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline – September 6, 2020
legislation and have begun to negotiate the outlines of an agreement to fund the government after October, no Floor action is scheduled in the House next week. However, House committees will be busy meeting next week to consider several pieces of legislation. This week also brought announcements from the Administration concerning White House tours and a telephone town hall for veterans. It was a great week traveling the Sixth District, and I continue to enjoy the opportunity to hear from constituents daily at events throughout our community.
This week I was pleased to join Bloomaker, the leading producer and supplier of hydroponically grown flowers in the U.S., as they broke ground on a 22,000 square foot expansion of their facility in Waynesboro. This new warehouse will allow them to meet their largest demand to date and ship nearly 1.5 million amaryllis bulbs to stores across the country. The company currently employs more than 100 part-time seasonal workers to help with the planting, harvesting, packaging, and shipping of its blooms and has plans to further expand its Waynesboro facility in the near future.
It was also announced this week that VIRTEX, an electronics manufacturing service company that provides services to military, aerospace and medical customers, would be introducing a new product line at its facility in Waynesboro. This expansion will create at least 40 new manufacturing jobs for area residents and is another example of our continued economic recovery.
Supporting Child Nutrition:
I recently joined my Republican colleagues on the Education and Labor Committee in writing to Secretary Perdue urging the Department of Agriculture to review flexibilities allowed under law to our Nation’s child nutrition program. Utilizing such flexibilities at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis allowed schools to provide meals to students in need and employing them again would enable educational institutions to continue doing so. I was pleased that Secretary Perdue agreed with our recommendation and this week authorized schools to continue to provide meals to vulnerable students through the end of 2020. To read more about the USDA’s decision, click here. To read the full letter my colleagues and I sent to Secretary Purdue, click here.
This week, the AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine entered Phase 3, the final phase of clinical trials. The Federal Government’s task force, Operation Warp Speed, now has three vaccine candidates in the final phase of clinical trials. Earlier this month, the FDA Commissioner emphasized that no matter what, only a safe, effective vaccine will get final approval.
Currently, vaccine developers are searching for thousands of volunteers for these clinical trials. If you wish to participate or would like more information, click here. Additionally, there is a need for plasma donations from those who have recovered from COVID-19 that may help treat people who have recently contracted the coronavirus. To find out if you are eligible and how to donate, click here. Fueled by American ingenuity, scientists and doctors are working around the clock to develop a vaccine, improve and increase testing, and create more effective treatment plans.
Veterans Benefits Administration Telephone Town Hall:
The Under Secretary of the Veterans Benefits Administration, Dr. Paul Lawrence, will be hosting his second Virginia state-wide telephone town hall next Wednesday at 4 pm for veterans in Virginia. He will discuss the benefits our service members have rightly earned and then will take questions for approximately 45 minutes. To participate, dial (833) 380 -0417 during the time of the call.
White House Tours:
While most tours of federal buildings, including the U.S. Capitol, remain suspended due to COVID-19, the White House announced this week that tours will resume in a limited capacity on September 12. Tours will be hosted two days a week instead of five, on Friday and Saturday, from 8:00 am to 11:00 am and the number of guests will be limited to 18% of normal capacity. Further, safety precautions will be in place such as the requiring of wearing masks, social distancing, and hand sanitizer will be readily available. To learn more about White House tours, please click here or call my office at (202) 225-5431.
With school-aged children of my own, I am aware of the uncertainty that surrounds sending kids back to school. To help clarify school plans, over the last few weeks, I have tried to provide you with the most up-to-date reopening information on school districts across the Sixth District. The below schools are slated to begin instruction this week.
Amherst County Schools: School will start September 9th
• All elementary school students will be in school Monday through Thursday with block scheduling in place
• For middle and high school students, they will be split into groups. One group will go to school on Mondays and Wednesdays, the other on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with both groups doing at-home instruction on Fridays.
• Virtual learning is available for those who have requested.
Bedford County Schools: First day of school pushed back to September 8th
• Pre-K through sixth grade students will attend school daily starting after Labor Day for face-to-face instruction with reduced class sizes so physical distancing can be achieved.
• Seventh graders, eighth graders and high schoolers will receive primarily virtual instruction in the fall, with each student connected to a “learning coach” throughout the school day to provide support and determine days when students may need to come into buildings for individual or small-group interactions with teachers.
Highland County Schools: First day of school set for September 8th
• In-school option Plan A will have students attending school 5 days a week.
• Parents may choose Plan B for their students to have 100% virtual learning.
Lexington Schools: School set to begin remotely on September 8th
• 100% virtual start for the fall semester.
• The school board passed the changes at a remote special session Monday night, and will consider what to do next no later than its next meeting in October.
Rockbridge County Schools: Start date pushed back to September 8th
• Students grades 2 through 12 will learn 100 percent virtually for the first nine weeks.
• Pre-K, Kindergarten and 1st grade students will attend in-person learning four days per week, breaking on Wednesdays for building sanitation.
Rockingham County Schools: School set to open on September 10th
• Students will begin the year 100% virtual for grades 2-12 and will then transition to a hybrid model of both distance and virtual learning.
• Grades PK-1 will come to school 4 days of the week.
Warren County Schools: School board will vote to push back start date to September 8th
• Preschool through 12th grade students will participate in a combination of in-person and remote instruction each week.
• Parents were asked to fill out an intent form online by July 17 to let school officials know whether their student would be attending classes online through the virtual academy or in person.
For a full list of public schools’ reopening plans, please click here.
Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline – August 23, 2020
As I crisscrossed the Sixth District this week listening and talking with constituents, I was consistently reminded of the hard work and resilience of those I am honored to represent in Congress. Once again, I visited the City of Staunton to see the rebuilding following the devastating flooding in the Queen City two weeks ago. In an effort to obtain federal FEMA assistance for affected residents, I wrote to the Governor requesting an expedited Emergency Declaration from the Commonwealth to get the folks in the area back on their feet in a timely manner. Also, I introduced a third bipartisan government reform initiative with my colleague Congressman Dean Phillips (D-MN-03), and the Speaker called us back to Washington to vote on a politically motivated bill affecting the Postal Service.
48-Hour Bill Review Resolution:
One of the most basic principles of representative government is transparency. That’s why this week, Congressman Dean Phillips (D-MN-03) and I introduced H. Res. 1086 – the 48-Hour Bill Review Resolution. H. Res. 1086 would require that in addition to the 72-hour notice for bill introduction, the actual text to be voted on must be published at least 48-hours before the vote. Adding this rule strengthens the current 72-hour rule by providing an additional layer of protection for the legislative text being considered, thus closing a loophole used far too frequently in Congress. Further, the 48-Hour Bill Review Resolution would require the House to pass an altogether separate resolution in order to waive the waiting period required under H. Res. 1086. This resolution would promote greater transparency and accountability in the legislative process. This is the third government reform bill Congressman Phillips and I introduced this month. In the past few weeks we have also introduced H.R. 7949, the SMART Government Act and H.R. 8022, the Lobbying Disclosure Reform Act.
Politicization of the USPS:
The United States Postal Service provides a vital national service, especially for those in rural areas. With many self-quarantining due to COVID-19, the reliance on the post office for delivery of things like medicine and daily household goods has become even more important. Both parties and past Presidential Administrations realize this and have made bipartisan efforts to reform and strengthen the current postal system.
Unfortunately, this bipartisan tradition has been put in danger by Speaker Pelosi in an effort to score political points. Congress was called into session this week to vote on legislation that would prohibit any further reforms to the USPS, require a rollback of any reforms made after January 1, 2020, and allocate an additional $25 billion to fund the USPS, even though Congress provided an extra $10 billion line of credit as part of the CARES Act enacted earlier this year, and even though the Postmaster General recently announced that he would delay the implementation of any further reforms until after November.
For decades there has been an understanding that the USPS required reforms to meet changing landscapes and competition. Whether President Clinton, Bush, Obama, or Trump, the consistent message has been that in order to ensure financial viability, the USPS needed to continue to reform its operations. Speaker Pelosi could have had the support of most Republicans, including myself, if she had left politics out of the bill and focused on improving USPS operations. Unfortunately, House Democrats placed politics above policy and ended up with a bill that has little chance of actually being signed into law.
Fighting for Staunton:
On August 8, heavy rain and flooding wreaked havoc in downtown Staunton and caused more than $3.1 million in damages to property. Soon after, the City of Staunton provided the necessary data to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and requested an Emergency Declaration but two weeks after the flooding, the State has yet to act. This designation is necessary because state designation helps a locality qualify for Federal Disaster Aid through FEMA. Knowing this is an already difficult time for businesses and area residents, I wrote to the Governor urging swift approval of Staunton’s request for an Emergency Declaration to ensure that the Queen City can quickly begin to rebuild what was lost.
Emergency Relief Check Filing Deadline Extended:
The IRS has extended its deadline to September 30, 2020, for people to provide information to the agency using its Non-Filer Tool. Click here if you have not yet received your Economic Impact Payment and meet any of the criteria below.
• Receive Social Security retirement, survivors, or disability benefits, or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments
• Did not file a 2019 or 2018 tax return
• Have a qualifying child under age 17
• Did not already enter information in the IRS’ Non-Filer Tool for yourself and at least one child
With school-aged children of my own, I am aware of the uncertainty that surrounds sending kids back to school. To help clarify school plans, over the last few weeks, I have tried to provide you with the most up-to-date reopening information on school districts across the Sixth District. The below schools are slated to begin instruction next week.
Bath County Schools: Schools will open on August 26th
• 4 days/week (Monday-Thursday) and 1-day remote learning (Friday), however, parents may select 100% virtual learning for their children when registering.
• Information on the virtual learning option is included in the plan. If you have additional questions, contact your child’s school principal.
Botetourt County Schools: School is set to start August 24th
• The Botetourt County school board approved a plan for fall in which students in grades 3-12 will have two days of in-person class and then three remote days of learning. The younger students will be in school five days a week.
• Students in grades 3-12 will be assigned to either Group A or Group B and will go to school on Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday and will learn remotely the other three days of the week. Then, starting on Wednesday, Oct. 21, students will learn in person on Wednesdays too. Wednesdays will alternate between Group A and B days.
• Students can alternatively choose to take all their classes remotely. They will not be considered homeschooled, so they will still be eligible to participate in athletics.
Lynchburg Schools: Lynchburg City Schools will start 100% virtual on August 24th
• Students will begin the year with virtual learning, then transition to in-person learning. As originally presented, this option calls for the transition to in-person learning to happen after the first nine weeks of school, however, the specifics of how often classes would meet will be determined by whatever data is available at that time.
• No decision has been made regarding the future of athletics.
Page County Schools: School will reopen on August 24th
• High school students (grades 9-12) will be learning remotely this fall.
• Pre-K through second grade will attend in-person four days a week.
• Grades 3 through 8 will attend in-person twice a week.
• Wednesdays will be used as a remote learning day for all students, giving time to deep clean schools and for teachers to plan.
Roanoke County Schools: First day of school pushed back to August 24th
• Parents can still choose to have their students receive 100% online instruction if desired.
• There will be reduced class sizes for the students in K-2 who attend school in person five days a week. School leaders said some areas of the school, such as libraries and cafeterias, have been converted into classroom spaces.
• Students in grades 3-12 will be split into two groups and will attend school in person two days a week spread out in classroom spaces.
Staunton Schools: First day pushed back from August 18th to August 25th
• Virtual-only learning for the first semester of the school year.
• The hybrid model will no longer be used and the plan for virtual learning can be found at the link below when a plan is published.
COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker:
While vaccines typically take years to produce, the world’s leading scientists and researchers are hard at work to develop an effective vaccine at record speeds. There are currently more than 165 variations of a vaccine being developed – 32 of which are already in human trials. Of those 32, 8 are in Phase 3 meaning they are currently undergoing large-scale efficacy testing, and 2 have even been approved for early and limited use. The medical community is hopeful that we can have a large-scale vaccine approved by early next year. To learn more, click here.