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.
9-8-8 National Mental Health Hotline to Become Reality
This week, the FCC announced they will designate 9-8-8 as the new, nationwide National Suicide Prevention Hotline operational by July 16, 2022. This three-digit number, 9-8-8, will serve as the new national suicide and mental health crisis hotline number, connecting callers in need of help with experts who can offer resources and hope to make it through a mental health crisis. In May, my bipartisan legislation the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act to designate 9-8-8 as the national suicide hotline unanimously passed the Senate, and I commend the FCC for quickly taking this step to offer Americans greater access to life-saving support.
A recent study by the Department of Veterans Affairs found that on average 20 veterans die by suicide every day. In my role as Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I have made mental health a priority and introduced legislation to help combat veteran suicide. Farmers have also experienced an increase in suicide recently, and a 2016 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found agricultural workers have one of the highest suicide rates among occupations. To help combat the rise in suicide among farmers, I introduced legislation to provide farmers with critical resources, which was included in the most recent Farm Bill.
As suicide is on the rise among these groups, this easy-to-access number is vital for the health of thousands of Americans.
During the transition to 9-8-8, Americans who need help should continue to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK). Veterans and servicemembers may reach the Veterans Crisis Line by pressing 1 after dialing, chatting online at www.veteranscrisisline.net, or texting 838255.
Seeing How Katie’s Way is Helping Veterans’ and Servicemembers’ Mental Health
On Saturday, I visited Katie’s Way in Manhattan, founded by Dr. Jeff Mathis in memory of his daughter, Katie, who died by suicide in 2013. We discussed Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) a non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical, electro-therapy treatment option for veterans and others struggling with depression and PTSD. The treatment of TMS is used to lower an individual's risk for suicide. Thank you to Dr. Mathis for opening up his facility to me and sharing the efforts he and his staff are making to help veterans and individuals live more joyful and prosperous lives. I am grateful for their efforts to fight to reduce American and veteran lives lost to suicide.
Speaking with FDA Commissioner Hahn Regarding COVID-19 Testing
I spoke with FDA Commissioner Hahn last week regarding the approval process for COVID-19 testing products and how they factor into the safe reopening of our economy. For Kansans, this includes our businesses, schools, universities and other entities that have been either shut down or heavily restricted while under COVID-19 prevention measures. We need to be certain that our testing is accurate and can be produced on a scale necessary for students to safely return to the classroom in person in accordance with our school and university guidelines. I am thankful for Commissioner Hahn and the FDA’s efforts throughout this pandemic, including their rapid review of urgently necessary tests, testing materials and medical equipment.
Discussing FBI Budget Requests with Director Wray
This week, I spoke with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray to discuss the Bureau’s FY2021 budget request, how they have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and police reform. I also received an update on the FBI’s operations in and around Kansas, such as Operation Relentless Pursuit and Operation Legend. In recent years the FBI, in partnership with state and local officials, has had great success in thwarting criminal organizations and efforts to harm Kansans and their businesses.
The FBI has a broad and complex mission, therefore it is imperative that we strike an appropriate balance of fulfilling the Bureau’s diverse responsibilities while targeting the highest needs and the greatest criminal threats. As Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, I will continue to support innovative and creative resources that help law enforcement engage with local leaders, build lasting partnerships and improve the health of our communities. I am proud of the FBI’s work in Kansas and across our nation, and I look forward to working with Director Wray and my colleagues on the subcommittee to best fulfill the Bureau’s resource needs.
Speaking with Aviation Industry Executives
On Friday, I joined a conference call with industry leadership in the aerospace realm to discuss my bill, Private-Public Partnership to Preserve Jobs in the Aviation Manufacturing Industry Act of 2020. Aviation manufacturing is at the heart of Wichita’s status as the “Air Capital of the World,” and is a major contributor to the overall economic output of the United States.
Unfortunately, the impact of COVID-19, on top of the grounding of the 737 MAX is endangering the industry. To address this problem, I introduced this legislation along with Sen. Warner, my fellow co-chair of the Senate Aerospace Caucus, that would form a cost-sharing program allowing the industry to retain workers who are at risk of furlough or permanent reduction. This program would ensure an experienced workforce is safeguarded and available to contribute as the industry recovers.
I looked forward to continuing to advocate for the passage of this legislation, and for the overall success of the industry, especially as the impact of COVID-19 and the grounding of the 737 MAX persists.
Witnessing Southeast Kansas Economic Development
I enjoyed the opportunity to visit several southeast Kansas businesses on Tuesday and witness the economic development happening in the area. Each business spoke highly of the quality of life in the area and the great employees that make their operations successful, which is a testament to the Kansas way of life.
Touring Ward-Kraft in Fort Scott
I was pleased to join Ward-Kraft, Inc. in Fort Scott for an update on their manufacturing operation, which distributes print products nationwide. We discussed precautions they have been taking to keep their employees safe during COVID-19 and their commitment to the Fort Scott Community. I also gave an update on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine and heard from the local Chamber of Commerce and city officials regarding Bourbon County and how they have been handling coronavirus. I was pleased to hear a local business stepped up to produce masks and donate them locally to make sure businesses are safe. Thank you to Roger Kraft for the opportunity to tour your manufacturing plant and to the local officials who joined.
Discussing the Creation of New Jobs at CDL Electric Company, Inc.
I then headed to CDL Electric Company, Inc., a family-owned business in Pittsburg that has seen tremendous growth over the past several years and benefited from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program during COVID-19. We discussed new jobs they brought to Kansas, their operation to create railroad crossing signal boxes and other services they provide, such as sign making and mechanical work. Thank you to CEO Larry Seward and his team for showcasing their operation to me.
Visiting EaglePicher Technologies
I also visited EaglePicher Technologies, one of the nation’s leading producers of thermal batteries. They manufacture seven different thermal batteries at their Pittsburg location used in products for the U.S. Department of Defense that are important to our national security, such as fighter and bomber planes and missiles. I appreciated the opportunity to see how they have recently expanded their operation and introduced new automation which has increased their monthly battery output threefold in less than a year. A special thanks to CEO Rich Hunter, Senior VP of Defense Jon Bagrosky and Site Operations Manager Brian Junge and Shannon Baker for the informative tour.
Stopping by Kendall Packaging to Discuss Their Recent Expansion
My last stop was at Kendall Packaging, where I spoke with Plant Manager Jack Trostle and Plant Controller Bobbie Kellogg regarding the increased demand during COVID-19 for their product – packaging for food and antibacterial wipes. Pittsburg provides a centrally located production site, allowing them to easily send products to all 50 states plus Canada and Mexico. They just completed an expansion, and we discussed their successful employee referral program, company efforts to promote mental health and work-life balance and plans for continued expansion in the near future.
I also want to extend a special thanks to Pittsburg Chamber of Commerce President Blake Benson, Mayor Dawn McNay, City Manager Daron Hall and Deputy City Manager Jay Byers for joining me throughout the day.
Read more about my visit to Pittsburg here in the Morning Sun.
Joining the Pittsburg Rotary Club
It was great to join the Pittsburg Rotary Club on Tuesday afternoon to speak with local professionals and discuss issues important to southeast Kansas. We talked about the ongoing expansion of U.S. Highway 69 into four lanes, how vital it is that local businesses and hospitals keep their doors open and the importance of civic engagement at the local level to help our communities thrive. I gave an update on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine and my work to make certain health care providers have PPE. Thank you to President Johnna Norton for the invitation, Kevin Mitchelson for the kind introduction and Representative Ken Collins for joining us.
Visiting the Lenexa Clinical Reference Laboratory
On Monday, I toured Clinical Reference Laboratory in Lenexa, which is one of the largest privately held clinical testing laboratories in the U.S. They have been working to develop testing for COVID-19 and have created an at-home, saliva-based test that could be mailed to a testing center for results. They are awaiting authorization from the FDA, but it was encouraging to hear the progress they have made on this type of test, capable of returning results within a few days. This at-home testing, if approved, could be especially beneficial as universities and school systems as they create plans to safely educate students this fall.
Recognizing Big Red One Commanding General MG Kolasheski
On Saturday, I visited Fort Riley to bid farewell to the Commanding General of the Big Red One, Major General John Kolasheski, and his wife Buffy. Robba and I have enjoyed working with and getting to know these two great Americans. We wish them both the best as they move on to their next assignment at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where John will be promoted to Lieutenant General and take command of Fifth Corps, the Army’s newest Corps Headquarters.
Announcing a New DEA Agent Assigned to Kansas
On Wednesday, I joined Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge Bill Callahan in Wichita to introduce the new DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Rogeana Patterson-King. As chairman of the subcommittee which oversees the Department of Justice, I am pleased to see this new position exclusively dedicated to DEA efforts in Kansas, rather than agents having to split time and resources between neighboring states. I was also grateful for the opportunity to speak with Wichita Chief of Police Gordon Ramsay and Sedgwick County Sherriff Jeff Easter. Law enforcement agencies in the Wichita area have worked together to combat violent and drug-related crime rates, and I appreciated receiving an update on their most recent efforts.
Congratulations to Assistant Special Agent in Charge Patterson-King. I look forward to working with you and other law enforcement across our state.
Checking In with the Kansas Livestock Association
On Thursday, I stopped by the Kansas Livestock Association’s office where I visited with Matt Teagarden about Kansas ranchers and the cattle market. Disruptions in meatpacking plants and supply chains due to COVID-19 have caused significant economic damage to livestock producers. I worked to secure $9.5 billion for livestock, dairy and other producers in the CARES Act, which USDA used to develop the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). CFAP has provided needed assistance to many cattle producers. However, the program also has flaws, such as the arbitrary cutoff date a producer was required to sell their cattle by to receive a higher payment rate. Since the announcement of CFAP, I have continued to work with my colleagues in the Senate to secure additional assistance to livestock producers and to fix these issues within CFAP.
In addition to low cattle prices, we are seeing worsening drought conditions in the western portion of the state. In counties with severe drought, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) has announced assistance to producers through the Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) and are allowing emergency haying and grazing of certain acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Producers in drought-stricken counties are encouraged to contact county FSA offices to learn more about program eligibility in their county.
Speaking with the Heartland Credit Union Association
On Friday, I met with leaders from the Heartland Credit Union Association representing credit unions across Kansas. With the surrounding economic uncertainty, it was great to hear how these lenders are helping their customers and businesses navigate the challenges presented by the pandemic. The economic recovery will not happen overnight, and I appreciate these lenders’ commitment to doing everything they can to help their communities respond.
Speaking with the Burlington Rotary Club
On Thursday, I joined the Burlington Rotary Club where I spoke about the importance of preserving our rural values and special way of life for the next generation. I also discussed the federal response to COVID-19, the role my office played in securing additional PPE for Kansas and answered questions on how counties can use federal funding provided in the CARES Act.
Thank you to Coffey County Emergency Management Director Russell Stucky for the invitation to speak and Coffey Health System CEO Leonard Hernandez for the introduction and the discussion with him and his COO James Higgins following the program.
Stopping by Pallucca’s in Frontenac
When in SEK, you stop by Pallucca's Meat & Deli! Pallucca’s has been fixture of the Frontenac community for over 100 years and was known to extend lines of credit to local coal miners during tough times back in the day. I appreciate the commitment to community Pallucca’s represents and their ability to make a fantastic sandwich. Great to speak with Ryan, Brice and Jeremy when I stopped there for lunch this week.
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 form of letter, a Facebook comment or a phone call, who wish to make their voice heard.
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