Kansas Common Sense

Welcome to “Kansas Common Sense.” Thanks for your continued interest in receiving my weekly newsletter. Please feel free to forward it on to your family and friends if it would interest them.

Coronavirus Update: A Win for Kansas Hospitals

Please take precautions to keep you and your families safe, and please call your primary care physician if you are experiencing symptoms related to the coronavirus. It is important as individuals we each take a personal responsibility to stop the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve, including washing our hands regularly, avoiding touching our face, sneeze or cough into a tissue or the inside of our elbow and disinfecting frequently used items and surfaces as much as possible.

In the midst of this pandemic, I realize that our economy will only recover once we address the issue of people’s health. I am supportive of widespread testing efforts so that Kansans can feel secure in their health and we can begin to look forward towards economic recovery.

To find further resources on how to protect you and your family, visit coronavirus.gov or the Kansas Department of Health and Environment website here.

SBA Issues New Guidance for Publicly Owned Hospitals

This week, I worked with the U.S. Treasury to get the U.S. Small Business Administration to issue new guidance permitting publically owned hospitals to apply for and receive loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) so critical relief can reach hospitals across the country struggling financially due to COVID-19.

Created in the Phase III Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the PPP allowed for-profit and non-profit hospitals with under 500 employees to receive loans to keep employees on the payroll. This unfortunately excluded publicly owned hospitals, including 62 hospitals in Kansas, from having access to the program. Many of these hospitals are county-owned and municipal-owned small hospitals that provide life-saving services to rural communities.

Due to health precautions related to COVID-19, hospitals are canceling non-critical surgeries to prevent patients from risking exposure to the virus. This has led to many hospitals facing revenue declines of 60-80%, making access to the PPP critical to their survival.

On April 9, Sen. Moran led a group of senators in sending a letter to Senate leadership urging them to clarify eligibility for the PPP to allow publicly owned hospitals to qualify for the program. Sen. Moran also raised this issue with President Trump during a call and continued to work with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Deputy Secretary Justin Muzinich and the SBA to make certain hospitals receive access to the resources they need to stay open.

This pandemic has forced many of these hospitals to cut back on non-critical services which has led to a dramatic loss of revenue. This fix is crucial to keeping hospitals open and making certain Kansans will still have access to medical care in their own communities when this crisis is over.

Read more here in Kansas City Star.

Announcing $21.2 Million for Testing in Kansas During The University of Kansas Health System Media Update

On Friday morning, I joined The University of Kansas Health System (TUKH) for a media update where I discussed the most recent federal relief package passed, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act. Widespread testing is one of the most important factors in how we can safely get our lives back to normal and businesses can start to reopen, and this legislation included an initial $21.2 million for tests in Kansas.

I was joined by The University of Kansas Health System Medical Director Post-Acute Continuum of Care Dr. Jessica Kalender-Rich, Medical Director for Infection Prevention and Control Dr. Dana Hawkinson and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steve Stites for the media update. To watch the full media update, please click here.

Additional Federal Relief Passed for PPP, Hospitals and Testing

This week, the Senate passed and the president signed into law the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act which will replenish funding for the Paycheck Protection Program with $320 billion, provide $75 billion for hospitals and health care providers and expand COVID-19 testing capacity with $25 billion, of which $21.2 million will be promptly sent to Kansas for testing.

The successful PPP program has already provided more than 26,000 Kansas businesses with vital resources to continue operating and keep their employees on the payroll during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am pleased the Senate could reach a bipartisan agreement to replenish this program and President Trump moved quickly to sign it into law so that the many more small businesses with applications hanging in the balance can receive relief, keep the lights on and save jobs.

Another critical aspect of this relief package is funding for COVID-19 tests and resources for Kansas hospitals. Kansas is in desperate need of additional COVID-19 tests and this relief package will provide much-needed assistance to our state. Through widespread testing, Kansans will be able to feel secure in their health so they can return to work and our economy can recover.

Urging President Trump to Eliminate Relief Restrictions for Producers

On Thursday, I led a group of my colleagues urging President Trump to make certain livestock, dairy, and specialty crop producers receive enough relief resources in the recently-announced Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) to ensure they can continue operating. The COVID-19 emergency has caused significant damage to agriculture operations across the country, with ag economists estimating $13 billion and $5 billion in harm has been done to the cattle and pork industries, respectively. The CARES Act provided $23.5 billion to support farmers and ranchers, including $9.5 billion for livestock, dairy, and specialty crop producers. This assistance provided through CFAP will help provide farmers and ranchers with critical relief. However, the relief restrictions included in the CFAP will significantly reduce the program’s effectiveness for many family-owned farms and ranches facing unprecedented losses due to the COVID-19 crisis, through no fault of their own. I will continue to work with the president and my Senate colleagues to ensure that farmers and ranchers are effectively supported during the COVID-19 emergency.

Read more here in KAKE News. 

Passing Additional GI Bill Fixes for Student Veterans

This week, the Senate passed the second round of legislation to protect student veterans. H.R. 6322, the Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020, is the House companion to the bill that I introduced earlier this month with Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.). This legislation is now headed to the president's desk for his signature.

This bill will allow student veterans to continue receiving certain education and training benefits, including housing and work payments, from the Department of Veterans Affairs that would be reduced or halted due to programs unable to continue during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Making Certain Kansas National Guard Troops Receive Benefits They’ve Earned

President Trump announced this week that certain states, including Kansas, are authorized to keep National Guard troops on Title 32 federal orders for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. This decision will allow the Kansas National Guard to use federal funds as it supports our state’s coronavirus relief efforts and will make certain that these servicemembers receive the benefits they deserve. I have worked with the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to make certain that troops who are mobilized in support of this nationwide emergency are properly supported, and I commend President Trump and his administration for taking this step.

Title 32 orders allow National Guard units to access federal funds as they support emergency operations. Permitting the Kansas National Guard to use federal funds in response to COVID-19 will create significant cost savings to Kansans. State funds that were previously being used to pay the wages and operating costs of our Guard can now be used directly for emergency relief efforts, such as the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE).

This decision will also have significant effects on those serving in the Kansas National Guard. Soldiers and Airmen serving in the Guard must be on federal orders for 31 days or more to be eligible for certain benefits, such as health care and education. The president’s announcement this week will make certain that National Guard troops who have been mobilized in response to the COVID-19 pandemic will be properly compensated and supported for their efforts.

Urging Secretary Perdue and Pompeo to Support Global Food Programs and American Producers

Last week, I led a group of my Senate colleagues in calling on Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to continue supporting global food assistance programs during the COVID-19 outbreak. These food programs, which include Food for Peace and the Dole-McGovern for Education program that was founded by former U.S. Senator from Kansas Bob Dole, supply food to populations that are vulnerable to hunger and starvation. These people are even more vulnerable during this emergency, making this U.S. assistance critical for their well-being.

Not only do these programs provide vital aid to global populations, but they also support Kansas producers. Farmers and ranchers in Kansas are still hard at work growing crops and raising livestock that are a vital part of our food supply chain. With the volatility seen in the agricultural markets during this pandemic, I will continue to work with the administration and my Senate colleagues to make certain the support for global food assistance provided by Kansas producers continues.

Kansas Law Enforcement Awarded $6 Million

This week, I was pleased to announce that the State of Kansas was awarded a $6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) through the Phase III Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act for state and local law enforcement agencies to fight coronavirus. Law enforcement officers across our state continue to put on their uniform each day and do their part in keeping our communities safe during COVID-19. I urged the DOJ to move quickly to distribute Phase III funding to our first responders, and I am pleased to see they have successfully implemented an expedited awards process that will make certain resources reach Kansas law enforcement who play a critical role in responding to this pandemic. As Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, I will continue to work to ensure our law enforcement officers are equipped with the necessary tools to keep themselves and the public safe.

Connecting with Kansans

This week, I joined Clinton Griffiths on AgriTalk to discuss the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program and how I am working to help support farmers and ranchers during the COVID-19 pandemic. I also spoke with Mike Adams on his American Ag program to discuss how Phase III relief is supporting the ag community.

$6.5 Million Awarded to Topeka Metro for Critical Transportation Needs

This week, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced Topeka Metro received an award of $6.5 million in funding provided through the CARES Act. This critical funding will be used to reimburse Topeka Metro for operating, maintenance and COVID-19 related expenses. This funding was part of the larger allocation of over $236 million in federal funding awarded to Kansas to help transit agencies respond to COVID-19. Transit agencies play a critical role in our communities, and I am glad they are receiving this crucial support during this unprecedented time.

Urging Extension on Dependent Information for Veterans

On Monday, I wrote to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about his department’s plan to automate Recovery Rebate payments to veterans who receive VA benefits but are not required to file tax returns. I was pleased to see Treasury and VA announce that they would be able to make these automated payments in the coming weeks, making certain that veterans unable to otherwise submit their information would not be left out of an important benefit they qualified for. I noted my concern, however, that Treasury had implemented a short deadline for some individuals to submit information about children and dependents in order to get the $500 per dependent authorized by the CARES Act. Veterans who have underlying health conditions and may have limited or no access to internet services should have an opportunity to provide the dependent information via mail and without such a short deadline.

Supporting the National Suicide Prevention Hotline

This week, I joined a bipartisan group of my Senate colleagues in urging Senate leadership to provide the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) with $80 million to support critical suicide prevention activities amid a public health crisis that is disrupting the social and financial stability of countless Americans. According to a 2017 report by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of 47,000 people that year. As many know, this tragic pattern is more prominent in vulnerable populations like that of our veterans’ community. Furthermore, the VA's recent National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report indicated that the suicide rate for veterans in 2017 was 1.5 times the rate for non-veteran adults. During this global pandemic, millions of individuals are experiencing heightened levels of fear, anxiety, social isolation, stress, and more. I will continue to work to ensure our citizens do not suffer under these new public health protocols and have somewhere to turn during this trying time.

Receiving An Update From Kansas Hospitals

On Thursday, I hosted a video conference call with Kansas hospital CEOs from across the state. We discussed what measures may be necessary for our hospitals to reopen in the near future and begin providing necessary medical procedures to the community. We also discussed the current financial challenges many of our hospitals are facing, and I gave an update on my work to make certain publicly owned hospitals would be eligible for PPP. I appreciate all those that joined, taking the time to speak with me as we continue to work closely to make certain Kansans are cared for.

Speaking with the Topeka Chamber

On Friday morning, I attended an online discussion with the Topeka Chamber of Commerce on the government’s response to COVID-19 in regard to small businesses. We were joined by more than 70 chamber member businesses and other small business leaders. Our discussion focused on the PPP and Congress’s addition of $310 billion to the program. Thank you to Chamber President Curtis Sneden and his board of directors for the kind invitation and for moderating our informative conversation.

Touching Base with Kansas Farm Credit

On Wednesday, I spoke with Kansas Farm Credit leaders about the ongoing effects the COVID-19 emergency is having on agriculture. During the video conference, we spoke about the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the impact that COVID-19 is having on farmers and ranchers, especially livestock producers. The latest round of COVID-19 relief that Congress passed last week explicitly allows farmers with fewer than 500 employees to apply for PPP loans, allowing farmers impacted by COVID-19 to retain employees during this critical time for our economy and food supply chain. Livestock producers have also been hit hard by this emergency, with billions in economic harm done since the beginning of the year. The CARES Act included $9.5 billion for relief to livestock, dairy, and specialty crop producers, and USDA recently announced the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) to help these producers cope with economic losses caused by COVID-19. We also discussed meatpacking plants and the need for additional PPE to keep employees safe. I will continue to work with my Senate colleagues to ensure that producers have the resources they need to continue providing the food that Americans need.

Video Conference Meeting with Reno County

I appreciate the input from health, county and state leaders from Reno County who met with me over a video conference meeting to address COVID-19 concerns and issues specific to that region. The main concern I hear over and over is the need for more testing. Testing is key to helping control the spread of this virus and reopening the economy.

Our conversation also included the need to replenish the PPP, expand access to broadband for schools and telehealth, newly available aid to ranchers and farmers and other steps we can take to help assist Reno County during this time.

It was great to hear from many people on the call including Nick Baldetti, Reno County Health Director, Sen. Ed Berger, Dr. Rex Degner, Hutchinson Regional Medical Center Chief Medical Officer, Carter File, HCC President, Daniel Friesen, Mayor of Buhler, Jade Piros de Carvalho, Hutchinson Mayor and Rep. Jason Probst.

Connecting with Barton County

I appreciated talking with leaders from Barton County over a video conference call to learn about the work being done to support health care workers, businesses and families in central Kansas during the COVID-19 pandemic. They had great questions and feedback on the Paycheck Protection Program that has already been administered to several businesses throughout Barton County that are hurting due to the pandemic.

We discussed the need for more testing and the possibility of community testing when Kansas receives more test kits. I appreciated hearing from Kendal Francis, Great Bend City Manager, Roger Long, Barton County Farm Bureau President, Rep. Tory Marie Arnberger, Rep. Alicia Straub, Sen. Mary Jo Taylor and many others.

Speaking with Atchison County Leaders

This morning, I held a video conference meeting with Atchison County leaders to listen to any COVID-19 concerns and issues specific to northeast Kansas. The main concerns we discussed was the need for more testing in the area and the desire to safely reopen schools this fall.

We also discussed the success of the Paycheck Protection Program and how banks are preparing to apply for additional loans for local businesses when the funds become available on Monday morning. 

It was great to hear from folks on the call this morning including County Commissioner Jack Bower, Atchison Mayor Shawn Rizza, Chief of Police Mike Wilson and area business leaders. Thank you to everyone for joining and for their work to keep Atchison safe during this pandemic. I look forward to getting back to Atchison soon.

Additional Phone Conversations on COVID-19

Assistant Secretary Szabat: On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to speak with Joel Szabat, Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs at U.S. Department of Transportation. During our conversation, I relayed the importance of Essential Air Service to Kansas and urged them to continue working with the relevant communities and airlines to ensure service during this uncertain time. Kansas is home to five Essential Air Service communities which provides invaluable air service connecting the state with the rest of the nation.

VA Secretary Wilkie: This week I hosted a call between the Republican members of the Senate VA Committee and VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. Committee members had the opportunity to hear directly from Secretary Wilkie on how VA is caring for veterans during the pandemic response and working to support nonveterans in states and local communities across the country. Our committee members represent diverse portions of our country and the needs of veterans across different states are not always the same. It is important for Secretary Wilkie to hear directly from our members on what challenges veterans face in their states, and I thank him for taking the time to do that this week.

Since being named to President Trump’s Economic Recovery Task Force, I have been focused on how the federal government can foster a quick return to the thriving economic activity we recently enjoyed. Part of the federal government’s role will be to resume the provision of goods and services from the private sector, as the VA had been doing with community-provided health care services. VA and the health care it delivers or purchases covers our entire country, and it must act to resume full delivery of that care in locations where it is safe and the private sector capacity exists. This is critical for both the veterans who rely on that care and the communities whose economies depend on that economic activity.

Kansas Leaders: I continue to contact leaders from across the state each week regarding the situation we are facing, from health care facilities CEOs to Chamber of Commerce presidents to local business owners. As the COVID-19 situation continually evolves, I am committed to hearing what Kansans are experiencing first hand. Thank you to Spirit AeroSystems President Tom Gentile, Hutchison Community College President Carter File, K-State College of Veterinary Medicine Professor Dr. Daniel Thomson, Olathe Air Traffic Controller Jami Davis, CEO of National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Colin Woodall, Hallmark Cards Executive Chairman Donald Hall, Jr., Children’s Mercy President Paul Kempinski, Ellis County Sheriff Ed Harbin, Topeka Police Chief Bill Cochran, Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden, Garden City Police Chief Mike Utz, Farmers Bank and Trust CEO W.R. Robbins, Alzheimer’s Association CEO Harry Johns, Kansas Hospital Association President Tom Bell, National Rural Health Association’s Jodi Schmidt, Kansas Representative Brenda Landwehr, Stormont Vail Health CEO Dr. Robert Kenagy, Prairie Band Potawatomi Nationa Chair Joseph Rupnick, Dodge City McDonald’s Owner Jamie Kuehl, Congressman Roger Marshall and everyone who joined me on video conference calls this week for speaking with me.

Kansas Health Care Hero

Many Kansans have answered the call to help in COVID-19 hotspot areas around the country in need of assistance. This week, I want to take a moment to recognize nurse practitioner April Dickey, a Salina resident, volunteering at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx for three weeks. She told the Salina Post, “I couldn’t just sit on the sidelines knowing patients and staff were suffering.”

Read more about this week's Kansas Health Care Hero, April, here in the Salina Post.

COVID Care Force: A Call for Health Care Professional Volunteers

I recently spoke with Dr. Gary Morsch, a Kansas City native and the founder of Heart to Heart International and Docs Who Care. Dr. Morsch was about to take on the night shift for the next three nights in an emergency room of a Trauma-1 hospital in Queens. He shared with me that they have 80 to 90 ambulances that arrive each day and night with patients who have COVID-19, which reminded him of his experience on combat tours as a Battalion Surgeon. He noted that the entire hospital is essentially an ICU.

When the news broke about an outbreak of COVID-19, Dr. Morsch founded the “COVID Care Force” to mobilize hundreds of health care professionals to fight back against COVID-19. Dr. Morsch told me that now is the time for “All-hands-on-deck” and that we must “raise up a great force of volunteer healthcare professionals” to deploy to hotspots or areas of critical need because of healthcare staffing shortages. The mission of this force will be to serve wherever the need is greatest, whether that is in urban areas, community hospitals, or right here in the Midwest.

Dr. Morsch asked me if I would share his mission and do everything I could to help recruit health care professionals who are willing to serve during this pandemic. Please click here to receive more information on volunteer opportunities.

Thank you to Dr. Morsch and all of the healthcare professionals and volunteers who are already putting their own lives and health at risk to protect and help others.

Honored to Serve You in Washington
It is an honor to serve you in Washington, D.C. Thank you to the many Kansans who have been calling and writing in to share their thoughts and opinions on the issues our state and country face. I appreciate the words of Kansans, whether in the form of a letter, a Facebook comment, or a phone call, who wish to make their voice heard.

Please let me know how I can be of assistance. You can contact me by email by clicking here. You can also click here to contact me through one of my Kansas offices or my Washington, D.C., office.

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