Warner Weekly Wrap Up for May 15th 2020

Happy Friday from the Warner press office. The Senate was once again in session this week, at an appropriate distance, and considered a series of nominations as well as intelligence-related legislation.

 

Here’s your Warner Weekly Wrap-up:

 

 

PAYCHECK SECURITY

 

As the New York Times reported this week, a bipartisan consensus is emerging around a proposal Sen. Warner is supporting to provide relief to Americans who’ve lost their jobs due to the coronavirus. From conservative Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) to self-described Democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and mainstream members like Sen. Warner somewhere in between, support is growing for the idea of putting paychecks in the hands of Americans who have been laid off or furloughed due to the coronavirus.

 

Together with Sanders and Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. Warner has released a draft policy white paper proposing a “Paycheck Security Program,” which would effectively guarantee the paycheck of every American furloughed or laid-off worker making under $90,000/year at a business that has suffered due to the coronavirus outbreak. This proposal differs in the details from Sen. Hawley’s proposal and another put forward by a group of House Democrats, but the core idea keeping workers on the payroll, with the federal government paying their salary, rather than unemployment benefits, is largely the same.

 

Sen. Warner took to the floor of the Senate on Wednesday to push for inclusion of a Paycheck Security Program in the next coronavirus relief bill and warned that the U.S. could soon face another economic depression if Congress fails to act.

 

 

Sen. Warner, a longtime advocate for reducing the deficit, acknowledged the potential cost of such a program, but he warned that failure to assist the more than 36 million out-of-work Americans could be even costlier, saying:

 

It will be expensive—and I say this as someone who has spent a long time working on trying to reduce the deficit. But when we compare it to the over $600 billion we’ve spent on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which has only helped one section of our economy—businesses under 500 employees—that’s done nothing for mid-sized businesses with 500-10,000 workers, I think the alternative will be much cheaper. And it will be pennies compared to the damage that will be done if we fail to adequately assist our fellow Americans in this moment of economic crisis.

 

Earlier this week, the House of Representatives released and voted on its initial proposal for the next coronavirus relief bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that he does not plan to bring the bill up for a vote, and so the negotiation process continues. Expect Sen. Warner to continue pushing for inclusion of the paycheck security program in an eventual deal.

 

 

HEALTH PRIVACY

 

As the United States looks for a “new normal” in the age of coronavirus, one of the tools experts say will be critical to combatting the spread of COVID-19 is “contact tracing.” It refers to the technique used by public health officials to track who a person infected with a disease has come into contact with, so that they can be quarantined and treated if necessary. For a pandemic on the scale of coronavirus, that will likely involve the use of technologies such as cell phone location data to determine who an infected person may have come into contact with. In April. Sen. Warner raised concerns about reports that the President’s son-in-law and White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner had assembled technology and health care firms to establish a far-reaching national coronavirus surveillance system.

 

This week, as tech companies and public health agencies continue to deploy contact tracing apps and digital monitoring tools to fight the spread of COVID-19, Sen. Warner and a group of his colleagues from the House and Senate introduced the Public Health Emergency Privacy Act to set strong and enforceable privacy and data security rights for health information.

 

After decades of data misuse, breaches, and privacy intrusions, Americans are reluctant to trust tech firms to protect their sensitive health information – according to a recent poll, more than half of Americans would not use a contact tracing app and similar tools from Google and Apple over privacy concerns. The bicameral Public Health Emergency Privacy Act would protect Americans who use this kind of technology during the pandemic and safeguard civil liberties. Strengthened public trust will empower health authorities and medical experts to leverage new health data and apps to fight COVID-19.

 

The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act would:

 

  • Ensure that data collected for public health is strictly limited for use in public health;
  • Explicitly prohibit the use of health data for discriminatory, unrelated, or intrusive purposes, including commercial advertising, e-commerce, or efforts to gate access to employment, finance, insurance, housing, or education opportunities;
  • Prevent the potential misuse of health data by government agencies with no role in public health;
  • Require meaningful data security and data integrity protections – including data minimization and accuracy – and mandate deletion by tech firms after the public health emergency;
  • Protect voting rights by prohibiting conditioning the right to vote based on a medical condition or use of contact tracing apps;
  • Require regular reports on the impact of digital collection tools on civil rights;
  • Give the public control over their participation in these efforts by mandating meaningful transparency and requiring opt-in consent; and
  • Provide for robust private and public enforcement, with rulemaking from an expert agency while recognizing the continuing role of states in legislation and enforcement.

 

 

BROADBAND

 

It’s estimated that more than 20 million Americans continue to lack access to meaningful broadband service, with at least 770,000 Virginians currently unserved. As schools have moved online, this has particularly impacted students

The “homework gap” is experienced by 12 million students in this country who do not have internet access at home and are unable to complete their homework. Research has shown that this gap affects students in both rural and urban areas and disproportionately affects lower-income students and students of color.  Students without internet access at home consistently score lower in reading, math, and science.  This existing inequity has been exacerbated during this current public health emergency as schools suspend in-person classes and transition to remote learning over the internet to protect the health of students, faculty, and staff.

 

This week, Sens. Warner and Kaine introduced the Emergency Educational Connections Act, legislation aimed at ensuring K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity and devices during the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Specifically, the Emergency Educational Connections Act would:

  1. Provide $4 billion in federal support for elementary and secondary schools and libraries, including tribal schools and libraries, to provide Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and internet-enabled devices (as well as internet service through such equipment) to students, staff, and patrons;
  2. Allow schools and libraries to continue to use the equipment after the emergency period; and
  3. Ensure schools and libraries prioritize support for those most in need, following the guidelines of the E-Rate program.

 

As the coronavirus pandemic develops, the E-Rate program offers an immediate solution that may help mitigate the impact of this crisis on our most vulnerable families. Additional funding for E-Rate would greatly narrow the homework gap and help ensure that all students can continue to learn.

 

Since the coronavirus outbreak began, Sen. Warner has made broadband access has been a top priority for the coronavirus response. Last month, he urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take immediate action to ensure that individuals all across the country have access to broadband, as more Americans are forced to rely on the internet for telework, telehealth, and online learning amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. In March, Sen. Warner led 17 of his colleagues in sending a letter to the CEOs of eight major internet service providers (ISPs) calling on the companies to take steps to reduce barriers that could prevent customers from using telepresence services for telework, online education, telehealth, and remote support services. Within days, AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, Comcast, and Cox Communications, as well as a number of smaller ISPs not included on the letter, announced plans to accommodate the unprecedented demand for telepresence services.

 

 

VOTE SAFE

 

Already multiple primary elections have been besieged by public health concerns as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most recently, in Wisconsin, voters experienced long lines and hours-long wait times, after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a court order that would have extended the period for voters to return absentee ballots—forcing many voters to vote in-person at a limited number of polling places. Multiple voters tested positive for COVID-19 after this election.

 

Sen. Warner has long been a leader in the Senate on protecting the right to vote, and now he’s joined Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) and U.S. Reps. James E. Clyburn (D-SC) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) in introducing the VoteSafe Act, legislation to expand voting options and improve the safety and accessibility of polling places across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic

 

The VoteSafe Act would:

 

  • Require states to provide no-excuse mail-in absentee voting for the 2020 elections and guarantee minimum due process protections for these voters;
  • Require states to maintain an early in-person voting period of at least 20 days for the 2020 elections;
  • Authorize $2.5 billion for states to meet their obligations to offer no-excuse absentee voting and early in-person voting; and
  • Provide $2.5 billion in additional discretionary grant funding for states to further improve the safety and accessibility of voting options during the pandemic, including:
    • Ensuring that elections are accessible to individuals with disabilities.
    • Ensuring adequate protections for language minority voters.
    • Ensuring voting access for American Indian, Alaska Native, and rural voters.
    • Implementing and promoting curbside voting.
    • Implementing and meeting a maximum wait time standard or publishing current wait times for voters.
    • Providing for the training and recruitment of poll workers.
    • Improving access to voter registration.

 

 

GRAB BAG

 

  • HEALTHCARE: With the Trump Administration actively pursuing a lawsuit to repeal the entire Affordable Care Act and its protections for pre-existing conditions, Sen. Warner joined the entire Senate Democratic caucus in filing an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief in the case, California v. Texas. The lawsuit, which was brought by several Republican Attorneys General and the Trump Administration, is currently pending before the Supreme Court and represents a direct threat to the Affordable Care Act and health care coverage for millions of Americans.

 

  • SUPPORTING COMMUNITIES & FRONTLINE WORKERS: This week, Sen. Warner spoke on the Senate floor about the budgetary challenges facing state and local governments due to the economic effects of the coronavirus outbreak. In his remarks, Warner urged Congress to provide additional financial assistance to states and localities and flexibility in how they use coronavirus relief funds. Warner cautioned that failure to address these budget shortfalls could threaten the jobs of first responders and other public servants on the front lines of the pandemic.

 

  • PROTECTING MINERS: This week Sens. Warner and Kaine joined a bipartisan group of coal state Senators in introducing the COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act which would require the Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) within 7 days of enactment to protect our miners from COVID-19 exposure at the mines. Additionally, the bill would forbid mine operators from retaliating against miners for reporting infection control problems to their employer or any public authority.

 

  • SAVE THE BAY: This week, Sen. Warner joined Chesapeake Bay delegation members in sending a bicameral letter to Bay Watershed Governors urging them to maintain rigorous environmental standards crucial to the health of the Bay, despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent decision to relax enforcement of these standards.

 

  • AVIATION JOBS:  Along with his fellow co-chair of the Senate Aerospace Caucus, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), Sen. Warner introduced legislation that would create a Private-Public Partnership between the federal government and aviation manufacturers designed to protect the workforce and industry impacted by COVID-19.
  • VACCINES: Today, Sen. Warner joined Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and 38 of their colleagues in introducing a resolution that encourages U.S. engagement with the international community on the COVID-19 response given the Trump Administration’s failure to participate in global summits on vaccines and therapeutics.  The resolution focuses on the indisputable facts that only with concerted global collaboration and coordination can the COVID-19 pandemic be addressed, and that the U.S. has failed so far to participate in a number of key global collaborative efforts on this issue. 

 

  • RUSSIA REPORT: Also today, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, of which Sen. Warner is the Vice Chairman, submitted the fifth and final volume of its bipartisan investigative report into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election to the Office of Director of National Intelligence for classification review. In addition to submitting the full, classified report, and in order to help facilitate the Intelligence Community’s review, we have also submitted what we assess to be a properly redacted, unclassified version of the report, totaling nearly 1,000 pages.

 

  • HARRISONBURG TRANSIT: On Wednesday, Sens. Warner and Kaine applauded $5,445,336 in federal funding for public transportation in Harrisonburg. The funding was authorized by the Federal Transit Authority (FTA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act supported by the Senators.

 

 

WEEK AHEAD

 

On Saturday, Sen. Warner will speak via Zoom at a graduation celebration for the UVA Center for Politics. The event is open to press and the public, and you can tune in here at 11:30 AM. On Tuesday, he will participate in a Senate Banking Committee hearing with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell. On Wednesday afternoon, he will hold an outreach call with local leaders from Tazewell County. The Senate will adjourn on Thursday for the Memorial Day recess.