Kansas Common Sense
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Advancing Legislation for a 9-8-8 Suicide Hotline
On Thursday, the Senate unanimously passed my bipartisan bill to designate 9-8-8 as the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline. This bill directs the FCC to designate 9-8-8 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Veterans Crisis line is 10-digits long, which is a barrier to Americans in a crisis seeking support. This line would include the Veterans Crisis Line for veteran-specific mental health support.
Now, more than ever, Kansans and the entire country will benefit from greater access to critical suicide prevention and mental health services. Designating 9-8-8 as a nationwide suicide help and prevention number provides an easy-to-remember and easy-to-access service for people to dial when they need a helping hand. As our nation faces a pandemic that limits our human interaction, Americans need this life-saving resource to help prevent suicide and provide a vital mental health service.
Given the month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month, there is not a more appropriate time to get this legislation across the finish line. I urge my colleagues in the House of Representatives to quickly pass this meaningful legislation and send it to the president’s desk to be signed into law.
Coronavirus Update: Supporting Aviation Jobs
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. Please also remember to social distance by maintaining six feet apart from people outside of your home.
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.
Working to Preserve Jobs in Aviation Manufacturing
On Wednesday, along with my Senate Aerospace Caucus co-chair Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), I 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. The pandemic has resulted in a drastic decline in air travel, and as a result, aviation manufacturing has experienced significant financial losses resulting in widespread layoffs. This legislation would help prevent further layoffs in aviation manufacturing by creating a public-private partnership, through which the federal government would provide up to 50 percent of total compensation for at-risk employee groups so long as a company commits to continuing their employment. Most importantly, under this arrangement employees remain on the job and fully compensated for their work. Both in Wichita – the Air Capital of the World – and around the country, our aviation manufacturing plays a critical role in both commercial and general aviation, and within our defense community, and I’ll continue to push this important program forward.
Read more about my legislation here in the Wichita Business Journal.
Joining The University of Kansas Health System Media Update
On Friday morning, I joined The University of Kansas Health System (TUKH) for a media update regarding COVID-19. I was joined by Dean for the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Salina Campus Dr. Robert Moser, The University of Kansas Health System’s Medical Director for Infection Prevention and Control Dr. Dana Hawkinson and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steve Stites.
We discussed the safety precautions hospitals and health care providers are taking, legislation the Senate passed this week for a 9-8-8 suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline, federal relief to support Kansas hospitals hospitals, the importance of nursing homes and senior living centers, and NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins discussing a potential vaccine with The University of Kansas Health System.
To watch the full media update, please click here.
Providing an Update from NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins on COVID-19 Vaccines
On Tuesday, I invited National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Francis Collins to give an update on a potential COVID-19 vaccine to the Kansas Health System Board of Directors meeting. Dr. Collins is leading our country's efforts to quickly develop, test and produce a vaccine against COVID-19. He reported they are merging some phases of testing and development in order to move more efficiently through the approval process for a vaccine. Trials are scheduled to begin on two different vaccine candidates in July, allowing results to be produced in September and, if successful, Dr. Collins was optimistic a vaccine may be available as early as October.
Advancing Legislation to Help First Responder Families
This week, the Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act (SAFR) passed the Senate and has been sent to the House of Representative for final passage. This legislation would ensure that families of officers and first responders lost to COVID-19 can quickly access survivor benefits under the Public Safety Officer Benefits Program, reducing unnecessary barriers.
Our law enforcement officers and first responders continue to show up for work every day during this pandemic despite the added risk of contracting COVID-19. As a country, we support and care for the families of first responders when they pass away from a work-related event, but this bill recognizes the threat this disease has on law enforcement and first responders and helps provide their families with the benefits they are owed. I’m proud to support this legislation, and as chairman of the appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction in this area, I will continue to work to ensure our law enforcement officers, first responders and their families are cared for.
Good News: Surgical Masks Arrive in Kansas
The shipment of 100,000 surgical masks from Taiwan I requested officially arrived in Kansas last week. These masks will be used to help protect Kansas health care personnel and essential workers on the frontlines. I spoke with Taiwan Ambassador Stanley Kao on Wednesday following their delivery to thank him on behalf of all Kansans for his country’s generous donation to keep us healthy and safe. Read more regarding my efforts to secure surgical masks for Kansas here in WIBW.
Discussing Meatpacking Plants and Agriculture Relief
On Friday, I spoke with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and was interviewed by Agri-Pulse about challenges facing farmers and ranchers. The cattle industry alone has experienced over $13 billion in economic damage due to market disruptions caused by the coronavirus. Using funds provided by Congress in the CARES Act for farmers and ranchers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the outline of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Producer (CFAP) to provide support for producers and to purchase food to be donated to food banks. I led a letter with 28 of my Senate colleagues urging USDA to not place restrictive limits on the amount of relief livestock producers may receive under CFAP. Given the severity of the financial harm COVID-19 has caused the agriculture industry, I continue to work with my colleagues on efforts to further support Kansas farmers and ranchers.
I also spoke with Secretary Perdue about current issues facing meatpacking plants in Kansas. It is important for our country to maintain the food supply chain by keeping meatpacking plants open, while making certain that plant workers remain safe. Small meatpacking plants play a critical role in meeting consumer demand. I am working on legislation that will increase processing capacity at small meatpacking plants by reducing the overtime fee they must pay the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) when operating more than 40 hours per week. Reducing this cost-prohibitive FSIS fee will allow small meatpacking plants to run longer hours each week to provide more markets for livestock producers to take animals and to meet the increased consumer demand for meat.
Seeking Answers on VA Reimbursement for Non-Enrollee Care
Last week, in my role as Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I joined Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Sens. John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) in sending a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie. We called on the VA to clarify how the department will be reimbursed for services provided to civilians and non-enrollees under its VA’s Fourth Mission. While the VA continues to treat these non-traditional patients during the crisis, the department has yet to specify whether federal agencies will cover treatment costs or if these patients will be expected to pick up the tab. With so many Americans facing financial uncertainty during these unprecedented times, it is imperative that the VA provides stability instead of contributing to financial hardships.
Advocating for Increased Broadband Connectivity
On Wednesday, I participated in a hearing held by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee titled, “The State of Broadband Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The hearing examined actions by Congress, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and broadband providers to address higher demands for communications and broadband services throughout the country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. I asked the industry panelists questions pertaining to the resources for critical broadband infrastructure deployment to rural communities in Kansas and improvements to the information that directs such federal spending. I will continue to fight for increased connectivity for our communities in Kansas, particularly in rural areas, so that Kansans can participate in the global economy, pursue their education remotely, seek critical access to health care services and stay in touch with loved ones.
Announcing Additional Department of Justice Grants for Kansas
This week, I’m pleased to share that the Unified Government of Wyandotte Count was awarded a $318,256 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) through the CARES Act for state and local law enforcement agencies to fight COVID-19. Last week, the City of Wichita was awarded $1.2 million through the same program. Law enforcement of?cers 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 ?rst 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 make certain our law enforcement officers are equipped with the necessary tools to keep themselves and the public safe.
Speaking with VA Secretary Wilkie
On my weekly call with VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, I reiterated my focus on veterans mental health care and using innovative approaches to connect our rural veterans with doctors and counselors. The CARES Act included my provision to enable VA to partner with telecom companies so veterans who are practicing social distancing can receive low-cost or no-cost broadband access for virtual tele-health appointments with their mental health care providers. I am eager to see how VA maximizes this new tool and requested Secretary Wilkie to provide regular updates on this initiative.
I also discussed the Veterans Health Administration’s return to normal operations, and how the Community Care Network should be a part of that plan, providing lasting changes for both the VA and community doctors. VA must work closely with the networks of community providers to make certain veterans receive timely and safe access to care. My expectation is that VA’s return to normal both improves the delivery of care for our veterans and offers community providers a return to steady operations supporting veterans and increasing their access to care.
Participating in Junction City Post’s Virtual Town Hall
On Monday evening, I joined a virtual town hall hosted by the Junction City Post to discuss health care and safety during COVID-19. I spoke about bringing more PPE and testing to Kansas to meet the needs of our communities, resources for hospitals, health care providers and small businesses through the CARES Act, including the Paycheck Protection Program, and the importance of making certain we are not reliant on foreign countries for our health care equipment needs. Other panelists on the call included Interim CEO of Geary Community Hospital Don Smithburg, CEO for Konza Prairie Community Health & Dental Center Lee Wolf, Geary County Emergency Management Director Garry Berges and Junction City Fire Chief Terry Johnson. Thank you to Dewey Terrill for moderating the discussion. Watch by clicking here or below.
Speaking with the Coffeyville Rotary Club
On Tuesday afternoon, I gave a keynote address to the Rotary Club of Coffeyville. We discussed both the health care and economic concerns of COVID-19 and how they relate. I spoke about the importance making certain our health care providers have adequate PPE and the importance of widespread testing, which relates directly to our ability to reopen our economy and the ability of Kansans to be secure in their health. We also discussed the Paycheck Protection Program, its ability to keep employees on the payroll and the long-term financial outlook for their main street businesses. Thank you to President Tamara Males for the invitation to speak.
Joining the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce
Also on Tuesday, I joined an online discussion with the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce on the government’s response to COVID-19 in regards to small businesses. We were joined by more than 80 chamber member businesses and other small business leaders. Our call focused on the success that Kansas businesses have seen with the Payroll Protection Program and Congress’ addition of $310 billion to the program. During the call, my staff and I fielded questions sent in by members of the chamber. Thank you to Chamber President Bonnie Lowe, Board President Mike Orozco and the Board of Directors for the kind invitation and for moderating our informative conversation.
Connecting with Independence-area Leaders
On Saturday morning, I joined community leaders in Independence to give a federal update on the work happening in Washington, D.C. We discussed the Paycheck Protection Program and data that indicates the program is helping many main street businesses, how all Kansans are affected by the livestock and meatpacking industry, legislation I introduced this week to support aviation workers, the importance of local health care and the National Institutes of Health’s work to pursue a vaccine. Thank you to everyone for taking the time to join the call, including Kansas Representative Jim Kelly.
Meeting with the Garden City Chamber
On Saturday morning, I also joined the Garden City Chamber of Commerce’s Virtual Legislative Coffee this morning. We discussed the Paycheck Protection Program, access to broadband in rural areas, federal relief resources awarded to the Garden City Airport, a potential Phase IV package in the Senate, the state of our livestock markets and meatpacking plants and the need to get more PPE and testing to Kansas. We also spoke about making certain the VA is properly caring for our veterans, an issue I am committed to as Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. I appreciate Chamber President Myca Bunch for inviting me to participate, Mark Hinde for moderating, and I wish Janene Radke all the best as it was her last event as Vice-President of the Garden City Chamber.
Kansas Health Care Hero
This week’s Kansa Health Care Hero is Amy Santoro, a crime scene investigator with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office. While Amy does not care directly for patients in the health care field, she deserves recognition for her work developing a way to sanitize face masks to allow first responders to reuse PPE and remain protected. Utilizing equipment traditionally used with evidence, she puts the masks in a cabinet with UV light which effectively sanitizes them.
Read more about this week’s Health Care Hero, Amy, here in KMBC.
Announcing Kansans Selected for the FAA’s Women in Aviation Advisory Board
On Sunday, I announced exciting news that Executive Director of Aviation Strategy at Kansas State University Lindsey Dreiling and Senior Vice President of Global Customer Support at Textron Aviation Kriya Shortt were nominated to the FAA’s Women in Aviation Advisory Board (WIAAB).
The purpose of this critical board is to develop strategies and recommendations that will encourage women and girls to enter the field of aviation. The WIAAB will assess education, training, mentorship, outreach, and recruitment of women in the aviation industry. I was a cosponsor of the legislation that established this board and worked to ensure its passage under the FAA Reauthorization Act, and I am excited that two very qualified Kansans will be lending their talents and expertise to this important board.
Congratulating the Next Commander of the 1st Infantry Division
This week, I spoke with Brigadier General Douglas “D.A.” Sims to congratulate him on his recent selection as the next commander of the 1st Infantry Division. We spoke about the significance of Fort Riley to the surrounding community, and its position as one of America’s most strategically placed Army installations. General Sims and his family are excited to return to Kansas, having last been stationed here in 2003 as a student at Fort Leavenworth’s Command and General Staff Officer College. General Sims will assume command of the Big Red One and Fort Riley this summer, and I am confident he will be up to the task of taking over from Major General John Kolasheski.
Thanking Law Enforcement During National Police Week
During National Police Week, I want to thank the men and women in blue who protect and serve our communities. Law enforcement officers in Kansas and across the country are on the front lines every day risking their lives and their health. Each day brings new challenges in our battle against the COVID-19. At a time when we are being asked to practice social distancing, our law enforcement officers continue to provide critical services to ensure the health and wellbeing of our communities.
As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that provides resources to the United States Department of Justice, I will make certain law enforcement officers have the tools and resources they need to continue protecting our communities and building relationships with those they serve. This week, we honored the service and sacrifice of our nation's fallen law enforcement officers, not only for the sake of those that have departed, but as a reminder to those that remain. May God bless our law enforcement officers and protect them from harm as they faithfully perform their duties each and every day.
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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