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Legislative Update

Weekly wrap-up from Senator Mark Warner

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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.

FINALLY

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.

GRAB BAG

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.

WEEK AHEAD

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.

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Legislative Update

Warner questions Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on need to include broadband funding in next COVID-19 relief bill

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On February 23, 2021, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) participated in a virtual Senate Banking Committee hearing with Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, where he stressed the importance of including robust funding for broadband in any future COVID-19 relief package. According to current estimates, there are approximately 700,000 Virginians who still lack access to high-speed internet, which has become increasingly essential for telecommuting, distance learning, telemedicine, and more amid the COVID-19 crisis.

“I would argue, over the last eleven months, we’ve seen broadband is a necessity. I think it is absolutely COVID-19 related,” said Sen. Warner in questioning with Chairman Powell. “I hope that the current package can be changed to actually include a sizeable investment in broadband as good as our four bipartisan packages have been to date.”

He continued, “Experts like Tom Wheeler and Blair Levin have said somewhere in the $40 to $50 billion range, we can get about 97 percent coverage along with better affordability.”

In response, Chairman Powell said, “I would agree that it is a classic piece of infrastructure for the modern economy, for the service economy, for the technologically advanced economy and having it…as broadly available as possible could be a significant benefit economically.”

As a former governor and now in the Senate, Sen. Warner has long fought for increased access to broadband in the Commonwealth. In December, Sen. Warner negotiated and passed COVID-19 relief legislation that included $7 billion towards broadband, including $3.2 billion for an Emergency Broadband Benefit to help low-income families maintain their internet connections, $285 million to support broadband access in minority communities, and $300 million in broadband grants modeled on bipartisan provisions Sen. Warner drafted with his colleagues. Sen. Warner has also introduced comprehensive broadband infrastructure legislation to expand access to affordable high-speed internet and has also introduced bipartisan legislation with Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott (R-SC) to establish a $10 billion Broadband Development Fund to prioritize funding for areas that currently lack service, support the deployment of advanced technologies in areas where there is the greatest need, and encourage projects that can quickly provide internet service.

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), about 21 million Americans do not have access to 25/3 Mbps internet, which is the FCC’s standard for high-speed broadband. Of that 21 million, 16 million live in rural areas, while 5 million live in urban areas.

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Legislative Update

Warner highlights how response to violence was slowed by D.C. status as a non-state

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Today, February 23, 2021, the Senate Rules Committee and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee convened the first congressional hearing examining the security failures that enabled a mob supporting former President Donald Trump to overrun the U.S. Capitol on January 6. At the hearing, senators heard testimony from four officials, three of whom resigned following the attack: former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger, former House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving, former U.S. Capitol Police Chief (USCP) Steven Sund and Robert Contee, acting chief of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).

In the hearing, Sen. Warner – a senior member of the Rules Committee – questioned the witnesses about whether the response to the security breach was delayed due to D.C.’s status as a non-state. While the National Guard in other states and territories can be called up by the governor, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser lacked authority on January 6 to mobilize the D.C. National Guard in defense of the Capitol. Instead, the D.C. National Guard is placed under the authority of the President of the United States. The commander of the D.C. National Guard, Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, has told the press that the Pentagon restricted his authority ahead of the mob invasion, and MPD acting Chief Robert Contee testified today that he was shocked by the administration’s “reluctance” on January 6 to approve the deployment of D.C. National Guard troops to quell the violence – resulting in a delay of several hours before troops arrived at the Capitol to restore order.

“I feel like the long-term discrimination against the District – and we’ve seen it in some of the COVID legislation where they did not receive the same kind of level of support that other states did – we saw it play out in real-time on January 6, the hurdles from the previous administration. I have concerns that deployment of the Guard was affirmatively slowed down,” Sen. Warner said at today’s hearing. “As a supporter of D.C. statehood, I would like to see that move forward. But even short of that, trying to ensure that the mayor has appropriate powers going forward.”

Sen. Warner is an original co-sponsor of the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, legislation to make the District of Columbia the 51st state. He is also an original co-sponsor of the District of Columbia National Guard Home Rule Act, legislation to grant the District of Columbia full control over the D.C. National Guard and the Metropolitan Police Department.

At today’s hearing, the senators also heard a terrifying and moving firsthand account of the January 6 attack from USCP Captain Carneysha Mendoza.

At the hearing, Sen. Warner, the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, also questioned whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was adequately sharing threat information with D.C. and Capitol police ahead of January 6. According to press reports, the FBI field office in Norfolk issued a field bulletin on January 5 warning of the potential for violence on January 6, but former USCP chief Sund testified today that he learned of the report only after the attack.

“I had a number of conversations [with the FBI ahead of January 6.] I called Director Wray on Monday the 4th, trying to express concerns that there might be this kind of activity. I never expected this level of violence. I had a number of conversations with senior FBI leadership on the 5th through the 6th. Candidly, I don’t think even the full FBI could have been fully informed of what was going to come to pass – but I felt like the FBI felt that they were in better shape in terms of intel and preparation than what came to be the case,” Sen. Warner said today.

Sen. Warner concluded, “Let me just say that my concern is that, in Virginia, we’ve seen these kind of anti-government extremists take to the streets in Charlottesville in 2017, resulting in the death of Heather Heyer. We’ve seen the same kind of groups come to the forefront on January 6. I think this is an ongoing threat to national security. I feel at times that, while the FBI and others have pointed this out, that it didn’t get the level of serious review that it should have with the prior administration. I know I felt at times that they did not want to take the information that was coming out of the FBI. I hope on a going-forward basis we’re going to be able to be more coordinated in terms of taking on anti-government extremism, whether it comes from the left or the right. This is a real, ongoing threat. I can tell you from our Intelligence Committee, that we’ve seen that many of these groups have connections and ties to anti-government extremist groups in Europe.”

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Legislative Update

Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline – February 21, 2021

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As the House prepares to return to Washington this coming week, I have been reviewing the Democrats’ $1.9 trillion COVID-19 spending package that does little to support actual COVID relief programs (only nine percent of the bill’s spending), but instead rewards chronic fiscal mismanagement in cities and states like New York and California. To help us defeat COVID, Congress and the Biden Administration should work to spend funds that have already been allocated and support opening up our schools and our economy. Small businesses are struggling here in Virginia, which is why I also wrote to Governor Northam urging him to support the tax-deductibility of PPP funds sent by Congress. Virginia should be helping small businesses, not tacking on extra tax bills when they can least afford them. I also participated in a hearing in the Appropriations Committee on child care programs to discuss how to best help folks who continue to juggle being parents, teachers, and working professionals during COVID. Additionally, I have continued to meet with constituents and advocacy groups to discuss their legislative priorities and ensure that their voices are being heard in Washington. While our region may have experienced some cold weather over the past few days, I am always thankful to be in Virginia’s beautiful Sixth District connecting with the folks I am honored to represent.

Advocating for Fiscal Responsibility:
Despite the federal government still having $1 trillion in unspent COVID funds sitting in its coffers, Democrats are preparing to pass an additional $1.9 trillion messaging bill. While I could support additional funding to ensure our kids are back in school and our small businesses are back in operation, we should make sure the money we approved last year has been spent before we decide that another dime is needed. Further, if the Majority passes this bloated “aid” package, Congress will have spent $6 trillion in the last year alone on COVID-related “stimulus”. That comes out to more than $17,000 per individual, $69,000 per household, and is larger than the GDP of every country on Earth other than the U.S. and China. This sort of spending is unsustainable and poses a serious threat to the longer-term viability of our economy. Any additional relief must be targeted, temporary, and tied to COVID.

Supporting Small Business:
This week I was joined by Congressmen Wittman and Good, in writing to Governor Northam encouraging him and the General Assembly to fully conform state tax law to the federal government’s recently enacted tax law to allow for full deductibility of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans in order to ensure the recovery of Virginia small businesses. PPP has served as a lifeline to more than 100,000 Virginia small businesses and their employees since the pandemic began, and as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act passed last year, Congress made its intent clear that these loans were to be forgiven and fully deductible due to COVID-19. Failing to conform state tax law with that of the federal government would stick those most in need with a sizable tax bill they did not expect and cannot afford. Governor Northam and the General Assembly must now do their part and support mom-and-pop shops across the Commonwealth. I am confident those serving in Richmond will do the right thing. To read the full letter, click here.

Supporting working Families:
COVID-19 has significantly altered the daily lives of millions of Americans. Families with young children have been stretched thin as they try to juggle being a parent, teacher, and working professional. It is well past time for Congress to step up and provide solutions. The answer in most parents’ minds is simple – we must reopen our schools. As I stated in the Appropriations Committee this week, while relief aid is important, we must ensure that funding is going to where it is truly effective. And at this point, the most effective use of taxpayer dollars to alleviate the stress on parents would be allocating resources to get our kids back in the classroom.

Pulp and Paperworkers Resource Council:
The forestry industry brings in nearly $17 billion to Virginia’s economy each year and provides more than $3 billion in recreational opportunities to nearly two thirds of Commonwealth citizens. Further, the forestry industry contributes $345 million back to Virginia landowners for selling their timber and employs 103,000 people throughout the Commonwealth. That is why I was pleased to meet recently with members of the Pulp and Paperworkers Resource Council to discuss their legislative priorities for the 117th Congress. I will remain an advocate for this vital industry both here at home and in Washington.

Port of Virginia:
The Port of Virginia is the third-largest container port on the East Coast and is crucial to the success of various industries. The Port’s mission is to deliver, “opportunity by driving business to, and through, the Commonwealth.” They certainly deliver on their mission as a recent economic impact study shows that the Port, directly and indirectly, supports 390,000 Virginia jobs generating $23 billion in annual compensation and $2.1 billion in state and local taxes. With the Inland Port here in the Sixth District, it was a pleasure to hear from Port officials about how Congress can continue to support their work and ensure they remain a significant economic driver here in the Commonwealth.

COVID-19 Update:
As of February 21, 2021, Virginia has had 564,119 total cases of COVID-19, including confirmed lab tests and clinical diagnoses, according to the Virginia Department of Health. The current death toll in the Commonwealth stands at 7,331. Further, according to the VDH’s COVID-19 vaccine data dashboard, as of February 20th, 1,101,433 people have been vaccinated with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 440,339 people are fully vaccinated.

This week, Virginia announced its launch of a hotline service hoping to streamline the vaccination process throughout the Commonwealth by preregistering those who wish to get the vaccine. The hotline can be reached at 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682), or can be found online at vaccinate.Virginia.gov.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your congressman. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for the latest updates. If my office can ever be of assistance, please contact my Washington office at (202) 225-5431.

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Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline – February 14, 2021

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This week, valuable time that should have been spent addressing the critical issues facing American families and small businesses were once again wasted by Congressional Democrats with another impeachment and trial of Donald Trump. And once again, Donald Trump was acquitted by the U.S. Senate. While Congress continues to put politics over people, it was nevertheless a productive week here in Virginia’s beautiful Sixth District. I had the opportunity to meet with several constituents and advocacy groups from across the District, including the Superintendent of Shenandoah National Park, folks from Special Olympics International, academic leaders, officials from the Port of Virginia, and members of the forestry industry. I also joined my colleagues in writing to several Biden Administration officials and the President himself regarding several troubling issues. Whether I’m in Washington or the Sixth District, I will always advocate for policies that benefit my constituents.

Meeting with Constituents:
Shenandoah National Park

In 2019, 1.4 million visitors to Shenandoah National Park spent $96.7 million in communities near the park. That spending supported 1,190 jobs in the local area and had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $129 million. Needless to say, the Park is vital to Virginia’s Sixth District. For this reason, I maintain a close relationship with Park leadership and this week spoke to the new Superintendent, Patrick Kenney, to discuss how COVID-19 has affected the Park’s operations and the importance of safely reinvigorating tourism in the region during the pandemic.

Special Olympics International
Special Olympics International is an organization that changes lives by encouraging and empowering people with intellectual disabilities by promoting acceptance for all, and by fostering communities of understanding and respect worldwide. Federal partnerships allow Special Olympics to provide vital services to athletes and families, including the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program and Unified Champion Schools Educational programs. This week it was a pleasure to chat with Roanoke resident and Special Olympics athlete, Matt Crowder, about the organization’s work in enhancing the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. To learn more about Matt’s work, click here.

National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities
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. This week, I enjoyed the opportunity to meet with members of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and other academic leaders from across the district to discuss education policy and ways to ensure student health on campus. As an active member of the Congressional Independent Colleges Caucus, I will remain an advocate for the hundreds of thousands of students receiving education within the Sixth District.

Advocating on Your Behalf:
Reopening Schools
As a parent, I understand the importance of keeping our children safe and ensuring they receive a good education. Remote learning served an invaluable purpose in the height of the pandemic, but it cannot be the only option moving forward. Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released clinical guidance titled “COVID-19 Guidance for Safe Schools.” In this report, the AAP outlined key principles to help with safely reopening our schools and strongly advocated that all policy considerations start with a goal of having students physically present in school. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has emphasized the importance of reopening schools “as safely and as quickly as possible for in-person learning.” To read more of the CDC’s guidelines for schools click here.
President Biden promised that he would support policies to reopen schools in the first 100 days of his presidency. Unfortunately, the Administration’s proposed policy of reopening 50 percent of our Nation’s schools and with students in the classroom as little as one day a week is not enough. This is unacceptable, and my colleagues and I wrote to President Biden insisting he reconsiders his plan. The full letter can be found here.

Open Borders
Based on information from sources on the ground, this week, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents have seen illegal crossings soar to more than 3,500 migrants a day, up from 2,000 earlier last month. This comes on the heels of several Executive Orders signed by President Biden aimed at weakening our immigration system. These orders halt construction of the border wall, reduce immigration enforcement, order non-citizens to be included in the Census, eliminate the requirement for illegal immigrants to repay the federal government if they receive public benefits, and will allow for 125,000 refugees to be admitted into the United States this year. Policies such as these encourage migrants to make the dangerous trip across the U.S-Mexico border and pose a grave threat to our national security, our economic and health recovery from COVID, and to American jobs. Read a letter to President Biden expressing concern for these policies here.

Defending the Second Amendment
Recently, Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee introduced the Sabika Sheikh Firearm Licensing and Registration Act. Not only would this legislation create a national firearms registry, but it would also require individuals to have a federal license to possess any firearm or ammunition. Further, this bill would mandate gun owners to have firearm related insurance and ban certain calibers of ammunition. Legislation like this tramples on the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens, and I will strongly oppose it.

COVID-19 Update:
As of February 14, 2021, Virginia has had 549,999 total cases of COVID-19, including confirmed lab tests and clinical diagnoses, according to the Virginia Department of Health. The current death toll in the Commonwealth stands at 7,012. Further, according to the VDH’s COVID-19 vaccine data dashboard, as of February 13, 994,631 people have been vaccinated with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 303,942 people are fully vaccinated.

On Tuesday, February 16 and Wednesday, February 17 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. the Martinsburg VAMC will be hosting walk-in COVID-19 Vaccination POD’s (Point of Dispensing) for enrolled Veterans who are 65 and older or Veterans who are essential personnel as defined by the CDC. Veterans will need to arrive by 3 pm to check in for the vaccine in the main lobby. Veterans will need to bring their VA ID Card and Driver’s License (or other identification) that shows their date of birth. To learn more, click here.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your congressman. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for the latest updates. If my office can ever be of assistance, please contact my Washington office at (202) 225-5431.

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Legislative Update

Warner raises alarm with IRS delays as Virginians wait for economic impact payments and tax returns

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U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) raised concern with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) after hearing from an alarming number of Virginians who have yet to receive their second economic impact payment (EIP) or long-awaited tax return. These troubling delays come as millions of Americans find themselves in desperate need of a financial lifeline after continuing to face economic hardship due to the COVID-19 crisis.

“I am deeply appreciative of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) work during the pandemic. The agency has delivered hundreds of millions of EIPs to Americans, all while managing the risks associated with COVID-19 and the need to protect our public servants at the IRS,” wrote Sen. Warner in his letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and IRS Charles Commissioner Rettig. “However, while the IRS has made an effort to provide timely and updated information on their website, my constituents continue to be frustrated with their inability to navigate some of the issues that are delaying their tax refunds and their second round of EIPs.”

As of November 19, 2020, there were an estimated 3.3 million pieces of unopened mail – including 1.6 million tax returns – at the IRS’s four Submission Processing Centers.

Currently, taxpayers who do not receive their economic impact payment must claim these funds by filing a tax return. This threatens to further delay needed payments and poses a particularly burdensome problem for Social Security recipients and other vulnerable populations, who may be forced to file a tax return despite not normally have a tax filing obligation.

In his letter, Sen. Warner also stressed the IRS’ responsibility to process individual tax returns and issue refunds as quickly as possible. In order to further understand the ongoing situation, Sen. Warner asked for answers to the following series of questions:

1. What is the current IRS backlog of paper tax returns and correspondence specifically at the Kansas City, MO location where Virginians’ tax returns are processed? When does the IRS project it will be finished processing the backlog? Can the IRS commit to providing more frequent updates on the backlog?

2. As the nation continues to work through the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, what steps are the agency taking to prepare for the upcoming tax filing season and to process all returns, whether filed electronically or by U.S. Mail, as quickly as possible?

3. For taxpayers who have filed their Forms 1095-A and 8962, when can they expect to have that form processed by the IRS?

4. For the second EIP, how many payments have been successfully delivered? How many payments have been returned to the IRS? Why are some constituents who received the first EIP now having issues accessing the second?

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

Text of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Secretary Yellen and Commissioner Rettig,

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

I am deeply appreciative of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) work during the pandemic. The agency has delivered hundreds of millions of EIPs to Americans, all while managing the risks associated with COVID-19 and the need to protect our public servants at the IRS. I applaud your responsiveness to Congress and the agency’s focus on delivering vital assistance to Americans in dire need of support. However, while the IRS has made an effort to provide timely and updated information on their website, my constituents continue to be frustrated with their inability to navigate some of the issues that are delaying their tax refunds and their second round of EIPs.

I understand that as of November 7, 2020, there were approximately 6.8 million individual paper return in various processing stages at the four Submission Processing Centers. Commissioner Rettig stated in his November 19, 2020, letter to my office that there were “an estimated 3.3 million pieces of unopened mail at these four locations, including 1.6 million tax returns.”

Since the November 19, 2020 letter from Commissioner Rettig, I have continued to hear from constituents that still have not had their 2019 tax returns processed or received their refunds. In addition, my constituents report that they have not received their second EIP despite many of these constituents reporting that they received their previous payment via direct deposit, and the agency’s Get My Payment Tool indicates their payment was authorized and mailed on January 6, 2021. Because taxpayers who do not receive their EIP must claim their payment by filing a tax return and claiming the Recovery Rebate Credit, many taxpayers face the possibility of even lengthier waits to receive their payment, including many who do not normally have a tax filing obligation. As you know, this population includes Social Security recipients and the most vulnerable in our county.

In addition, constituents continue to indicate that they are not receiving refunds due to lags in processing Health Insurance Marketplace Statements (Form 1095-A) and Premium Tax Credits (Form 8962), which are required if they receive their healthcare from the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

I appreciate the enormity of the challenges that the agency faces in trying to conduct its work while keeping its workers safe from COVID-19. However, the agency has a responsibility to process individual tax returns and issue all refunds that taxpayers are entitled to as quickly as possible and to be as communicative as possible.

To help me respond adequately to my constituents, please answer the following questions:

1. What is the current IRS backlog of paper tax returns and correspondence specifically at the Kansas City, MO location where Virginians’ tax returns are processed? When does the IRS project it will be finished processing the backlog? Can the IRS commit to providing more frequent updates on the backlog?
2. As the nation continues to work through the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, what steps is the agency taking to prepare for the upcoming tax filing season and to process all returns, whether filed electronically or by U.S. Mail, as quickly as possible?
3. For taxpayers who have filed their Forms 1095-A and 8962, when can they expect to have that form processed by the IRS?
4. For the second EIP, how many payments have been successfully delivered? How many payments have been returned to the IRS? Why are some constituents who received the first EIP now having issues accessing the second?

I know the IRS is working diligently to serve the American people, and I welcome our continued collaboration to help Americans across the country. Thank you for your attention to this important issue.

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Legislative Update

A nod to Black History Month, COVID vaccine distribution issues and getting kids back into schools

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Senator Yvonne Miller

During the month of February, we celebrate Black History Month. So many African-Americans have made significant contributions in public policy and many other fields. I want to recall some giants like Congressman John Lewis, President Obama, and several Virginians that I have served with in legislature. I’ve been fortunate to know leaders like Congressman Bobby Scott, State Senator Yvonne Miller as well as the first Black President Pro Temp of the VA Senate, Louise Lucas. I am grateful for their service and the strides they made on a challenging field.

Senator Louise Lucas

Many constituents continue to reach out with questions and comments about the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines. January saw record numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Virginia. As of this writing, we are seeing these trends go down. The virus is mutating and we are now noting the appearance of these variants within the Commonwealth. Most of us are “battle weary” and it will be easy to let down our guard. That will only prolong this pandemic. All of us should be committed to stemming the spread, getting vaccinated, and getting back to work and life.

Slugging through the eleventh month of the pandemic, frustration over the distribution of the vaccine is the shared undertone I hear from constituents. Without a doubt the supply of doses far outpaces the eligible demand in Phases 1a and 1b. Every state wants more vaccine from the federal government and Virginia is no exception. More vaccines are in the pipeline but still are not available. In addition to patience, adjusting the distribution plan (adjusted inventory management plans, shifted doses from hospitals, and providing clear direction to health districts) has been necessary and keeps the situation fluid. The VDH vaccine dashboard reveals the most up to date information.

This week, CVS will start its “shot in the arm” program with 36 locations. The best news is their inventory will be in addition to what Virginia is already receiving. Negotiations are taking place with more pharmacy chains such as Walgreens, Giant, and Walmart. This is a positive step forward in reaching our vaccine program goals.

It has been nearly a year since students have experienced a usual and customary school day. Governor Northam has made it a priority to get kids back into school beginning March 15. Plans for the school year must be predicated on the safety of children and teachers. In many localities, in-person learning has been occurring for special education and some ESOL learners. Many are also utilizing hybrid learning. Evidence shows schools are able to reopen safely and in-person learning does not pose a risk of being a super spreader threat. I supported SB 1303, which directs school districts to be ready to get our children back into the best learning environment.

In some of the larger localities, operational challenges will be present, but the Governor is prepared to assist with federal funding to help meet them head on. In an effort to bridge the achievement gap we see for many students, it will be necessary to plan for summer school options. Students that need this the most will be prioritized. Local school boards and superintendents are diligently working to calibrate the best way forward in this new learning environment. From the lessons of the past year, there are positive takeaways we can build upon going forward.

The General Assembly has been operating at supersonic speed. Last week, each chamber completed work on its originating bills. Even with bill limitations, this has been no small task.  Hundreds of bills have been vetted in committees and debated at length in respective floor sessions. Most days begin at sunrise in a subcommittee and often go late into the night.  Crossover was February 5. The Senate went into its floor session at 10 am and concluded in the eleventh hour. Governor Northam has called for a Special Session to conclude the business of the Legislature.

Historic legislation has passed both the Senate and the House of Delegates which abolishes the death penalty and legalizes the use of recreational marijuana. The merits of capital punishment have been debated at length as legislators seek a more equitable and fairer criminal justice system. In the Senate, despite nearly two hours of floor speeches, SB 1165 passed along party lines. That vote was mirrored in the House. The Governor has signaled his support for this landmark legislation and will likely sign it into law.

The Senate and House passed bills authorizing adult recreational use of marijuana. SB 1406 came out along party lines with just two Republican senators joining Democrats in this initiative. You may recall in 2020 the penalty for simple possession became a civil fine not to exceed $25. There are differences with the House that will likely need to be hammered out before the measure is signed into law by Governor Northam, who has indicated his support. Retail commerce is likely to begin in 2024.

The G3 bill, Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back, has also passed both the House and Senate and will be a quick procedural vote to get over to the Governor for his signature. The concept behind SB 1405 is something that I have worked on for several years. It is also adequately funded in the proposed budget plans to launch the pathway for retooling careers.

Steps have been taken (SJ 270) to repeal (a now moot) amendment to the Constitution banning same sex marriage. Additionally, the Senate has passed a resolution (SJ 310) calling for a constitutional amendment which will lengthen the General Assembly to 46 days in the odd years. It was necessary to file this bill because of the time required to make adjustments to the budget as well as get through the tsunami of proposed legislation from 140 members serving over 8 million constituents.

By the end of this month, hundreds of bills will make their way to the Governor’s desk. The proceedings of the Virginia Senate are online for your review at Granicus link here. Also, logging into LIS.Virginia.gov will bring you to the page where you are able to research all introduced bills by number, member, or committee assignments.


(Press Release and art from office of State Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw)

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