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2019-11-7

Earl C. “Billy” Bennett

December 9, 1931-November 5, 2109

Visitation Services

6-8 p.m. Friday Nov 8

Owen Funeral Home
303 S. Halifax Road
Jarratt, Virginia

11 a.m. Saturday, November 9

Owen Funeral Home
303 S. Halifax Road

Jarratt, Virginia

Earl C. “Billy” Bennett, 84, of Emporia, passed away, Tuesday, November 5, 2019. He was preceded in death by a sister, Alice Long and a brother, James Lee Bennett. Mr. Bennett is survived by his wife, Jean M. Bennett; daughter, Denna B. Glover (Brian); son, Douglas Earl Bennett (Wanda); grandchildren, Kristin Quarles (Ronnie), Logan Glover and Madison Glover; great-grandchildren, Akaela, Braelen and Braxon; two brothers, Robert Bennett (Rose) and Tommy Bennett (Lee); sister, Thelma Wells; faithful and devoted brother-in-law, Hersheal Mitchell (Cathy) and special friends, Tammy Jackson and Don Tudor. The family will receive friends 6-8 p.m. Friday Nov 8 at Owen Funeral Home, 303 S. Halifax Rd., Jarratt, Virginia where the funeral service will be held 11 a.m. Saturday, November 9. Interment will follow at Greensville Memorial Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions be made to Central Life Saving and Rescue Squad, 5736 Gasburg Rd, Gasburg, Virginia 23857. Online condolences may be shared with the family at www.owenfh.com.

WARNER URGES SENATE TO SWIFTLY RENEW FUNDING FOR VIRGINIA HBCUs

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Congressional Bipartisan Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCU) Caucus, joined Senate colleagues and leaders from HBCUs – including a student from Virginia Union University in Richmond – in calling on the Senate to pass the bipartisan FUTURE Act, which would restore $255 million in federal funding for HBCUs and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) that expired on September 30. While the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the FUTURE Act in September, Senate Republicans have blocked this critical legislation from coming to the Senate floor for a vote.

Virginia is home to Virginia Union University, Norfolk State University, Virginia State University, Hampton University, and Virginia University of Lynchburg – all of which stand to lose funding if the Senate fails to act.

“In Virginia, we’re talking about nearly $4 million in funding last year that is at risk unless we pass the FUTURE Act,” said Sen. Warner during today’s press conference. “This is an investment in our students. It’s an investment in the middle class. And it’s time for the federal government to live up its commitment.”

Sen. Warner was also joined today by Jalynn Hodges, a biology major currently serving as the first-ever elected student representative for the Board of Trustees at Virginia Union University (VUU), who underscored how renewing this funding would enable the Virginia Union community to continue to support students who pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

“When I arrived at my prestigious HBCU in fall of 2017, I entered the gateway into my future. During my first year, I conducted research in our neuroscience and chemistry laboratory where I learned technical and analytical skills that are essential to my long-term academic and professional goals,” said Jalynn Hodges, biology major at VUU.  “With continued mandatory funding, students and faculty will be afforded access to ever changing equipment and laboratories that are consistent with industry standards. It is because of VUU that I am a better version of myself - one who is confident and assured that resources that have been afforded to me have prepared me for my graduate studies in medicine.”

Earlier this week, Sen. Warner joined more than three dozen Senators in a letter to Senate leaders calling for passage of the bipartisan FUTURE Act legislation to renew this vital funding for Virginia’s HBCUs.

“As Virginia’s most affordable 4-year public university, Norfolk State provides access to a quality higher education in a culturally diverse and supportive learning environment. Failure to restore Title III Part F mandatory funding for HBCUs will represent more than a $5.8 million loss for NSU. Without this funding, Norfolk State’s educational programs in both teacher preparation and the STEM fields will be put at risk at a time when we are working to increase diversity in the front of our classrooms, and grow the pipeline of diverse STEM graduates to fill the jobs of the new economy. Norfolk State University expresses appreciation to Senators Warner and Kaine for their leadership on this critical issue, and urges all Senators to join them in securing the future of America’s HBCUs and the students they serve by passing the FUTURE Act,” said Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston, President of Norfolk State University.

“Failure to pass the FUTURE Act will have serious consequences for America’s HBCUs, their students, and my peers. Norfolk State University’s supportive and culturally aware learning environment has helped me to grow as a leader and put me on the path to success. I would likely not have had these opportunities at other schools. All students regardless of their socio-economic background deserve access to a quality higher education and the opportunity to realize their full potential. It is time for Congress to stand with the students of America’s HBCUs by voting to pass the FUTURE Act,” said Linei Woodson, President of Norfolk State University’s Student Government Association.  

In the mid-1990s, as a successful tech entrepreneur, Warner – who is also a former member of the Board of Trustees at Virginia Union – helped to create the Virginia High-Tech Partnership (VHTP) to connect students attending Virginia’s five HBCUs with internship opportunities in tech firms across the Commonwealth.

A Message about Improving Service from Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security

“Thank you for your interest in the Social Security Administration and for reading this Open Letter to the Public to learn more about what we are doing to improve service.

A Little about Me:

I have been frequently asked why, at age 73 with a loving wife of 51 years, a beautiful family, and a successful business career, I would want to take on the responsibility and stress of running a huge government organization that affects nearly every American.  My answer is simple.  I took the job as Commissioner of Social Security because I saw that this very important agency faced an increasing number of challenges.  Millions of Americans depend on SSA to do our job well, each day, no excuses—because when we don’t, people suffer.  I took the job because SSA must dramatically improve customer service for you, your loved ones, and everyone who depends on our programs.

What is My Plan?

When I speak to groups of SSA employees, to my senior managers, and to external groups including Congress, they ask what I plan to accomplish.  It is no secret that the government is full of bureaucratic processes.  There are Agency Strategic Plans, Annual Performance Plans, Budget documents for this and future years, IT strategic plans, and any number of internal organization planning documents.  I understand that these writings serve to provide direction and transparency, but I doubt most employees or members of the public read them.  I am hopeful that this letter will answer your questions in a straightforward and easy to follow way. 

My plan is rooted in common sense.  SSA has many departments and over 60,000 employees who perform millions of functions each year.  But, whether it is issuing retirement checks, processing disability claims, or providing Social Security cards, our fundamental mission is to ensure timely and accurate service for the public.  My plan is to emphasize and restore fundamental public service so that when you call us, we answer timely.  When you come to our offices, we serve you timely.  When you apply for benefits, you receive a timely answer from us and, if you are approved for benefits, you receive a timely check from us.  Some SSA employees and the three unions who represent them may suggest we simply want to push employees even harder.  I’ve run enough businesses and organizations to know that no employer gets 100% from every employee every day—there is always room to improve.  Over the past 5 months, I have met with and observed many, many SSA employees.  Let me tell you what I determined:  they care.  They are just as concerned and stressed about work piling up as I am.  They dread the feeling of coming into work knowing the public will line up and wait far too long for correct answers.  That is demoralizing.  I don’t want our excellent employees to feel beaten down or think that headquarters fails to appreciate their challenges.  By getting wait times down, we allow our employees to do their work in a better environment where they can focus on the action in front of them not the piles of work around them.

As important as it is to serve you timely, we need to serve you well.  We need to evaluate how we train our employees, review their work and give feedback, and appropriately simplify our policies to be easier to implement and understand.  I have reviewed audits and noted that we consistently receive poor marks in certain areas.  You should expect that we will properly pay benefits to only the folks who are entitled to them and we should always pay them the correct amount.  That is important not only for stewardship but also to each of you who receives a check from us.  I also cannot ignore the message from significant workloads like litigation, which can occur when we do not properly apply policy.  Yes, we must address the affected cases but we must also fix the root cause.  Getting things wrong has been very costly to us.  It is time to invest in ensuring we get things right.

Part of the answer is technology.  However, before we can readily implement more efficient systems, we have to fix some core issues.  Did you know we store a beneficiary’s address in something close to 20 different systems?  If you move, we can change your address in one place but that may not change it in the others.  We are working to fix this and other problems.  Our new approach will not look at our services from our vantage point, such as using a specific system to complete a singular action we are working on in the moment.  We will look at our work from your perspective.  Meaning, if you go online and then call us and then come in to an SSA office, our employees will know that history and you don’t have to start from square one each time.

However, technology alone is not the solution.  Sure, many people like the idea of going online for convenient service and we need to modernize and meet that need.  But, many other people need a little extra help, a little more information, maybe even some reassurance from an expert.  Thus, we need a responsive workforce.  We already have people who care deeply about our mission and the public.  Now we need to have enough folks to meet the demand so that they can spend the time they need to handle each customer’s need correctly.  We need to implement additional quality checks so that we can let our employees know when they misapplied a policy or missed a key issue.  Our employees want this feedback.  We need to give our employees what they need to get you the right result.

We need to assess how we do our work, how we use technology, and how we empower our employees at SSA.  All of those things are complicated, but they are necessary to accomplish my plan for SSA.  What is the plan?  We are going to work every day to improve the public service you receive from us.  As I said, common sense. 

What happens next?

Right now, SSA’s Office of Systems is working with public and private sector experts to modernize our technology infrastructure so that we can serve you more efficiently and with greater accuracy.  At the same time, we are shifting resources to the front lines of our public service operation.  Our Office of Operations manages nearly all of our public facing services like the field offices in your communities and the National 800 Number.  It is logical and appropriate that we focus on these offices first.  Some people may believe that is a “hiring freeze” but I call it “smart hiring”—sending our resources to the front lines where you benefit most.  Dependent on our final appropriation for fiscal year 2020, we are targeting additional hiring in these public service offices, and I have already directed that SSA hire 1,100 more people to do this work.  During a time of more constrained resources, the agency closed field offices early on Wednesdays.  We are ending that practice to provide you with additional access to our services.  We are also ending a telework pilot, which was implemented without necessary controls or data collection to evaluate effectiveness or impact on public service.  I support work-life balance for SSA employees consistent with meeting our first obligation: to serve the public.  A time of workload crisis is not the time to experiment with working at home, especially for the more than 40,000 employees who staff our public facing offices. 

Modernizing technology and getting more employees back into the offices are critical first steps. We will take additional steps to chip away at our current wait times; however, the first obvious move is an infusion of resources into key offices, increasing the availability of those offices to the public, and holding all of our employees accountable.  We know how important our work is and understand the consequences of poor service. 

You will hear from me again with straightforward information about our progress.  I appreciate your patience as we work to improve our performance in service to you.”

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