Kansas Common Sense
Aug 17 2020
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Continuing Negotiations on a Phase IV Relief Package
The White House and Congressional Democrats are currently at loggerheads over a COVID-19 Phase IV relief package, but it is important to remember that every previous federal relief package passed with unanimous support. The first three federal relief packages included many provisions I would not support in ordinary circumstances, but hospitals needed supplies, small businesses needed loans, and folks who were out of work, through no fault of their own, needed relief.
The COVID-19 pandemic has lasted longer than many predicted, and we cannot continue spending trillions of dollars at our current pace. There are simply not enough government programs or borrowed dollars to keep this economy going. Any additional federal relief needs to be focused on our health, with resources for more testing, personal protective equipment (PPE) and vaccine development and distribution. I continue to monitor the negotiations occurring and participate in conference calls with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
The president’s executive orders laid out issues that are important to everyday Kansans, especially for those who are unemployed or can’t pay their rent. It is my hope that the president’s actions will help get the negotiations back on track.
Announcing Schwan’s New Expansion in Salina
I started my week by joining Salina area officials, Schwan’s Company leadership and Governor Kelly to announce a major expansion of Schwan’s Company and Tony’s Pizza. The expansion will include a new 400,000 square foot state-of-the-art pizza making facility and add 225 new full-time jobs in the area, as well as preserve the jobs of the current Schwan’s employees in the Salina area.
In 1960, Tony’s Little Italy began serving pizza to Salinians. Ten years later, the Schwan family purchased the pizza shop and began distributing the pizza nationwide as one of the first frozen pizza in the United States. This recent major investment into the company illustrates that Tony’s Pizza is still an important part of the Salina community.
Thank you to Salina Mayor Mike Hoppock and Schwan’s CEO Dimitrios Smyrnios for joining this exciting announcement for the Salina community.
Read more about the announcement here in WIBW. To watch my remarks, click here or below.
Kubota Announces Plans to Expand to Salina
Thursday was another great day for Salina, as it was announced that Great Plains Manufacturing will be home to the North American production line of the Kubota compact track loader. The company plans to make a $53 million investment, which will include facility acquisition as well as robotics and advanced manufacturing training for approximately 130 new employees. Congratulations to Great Plains President Linda Salem and all company employees who competed against several states, along with locations in Japan and China, for this highly coveted project. The fact that Kubota entrusted Great Plains with such an important product line speaks very highly of the company and its employees, the City of Salina and our great State of Kansas.
Read more about this announcement here on the Salina Post.
Supporting the U.S. Postal Service
The Postal Service has long been an essential piece of American communication and commerce, but its deteriorating financial condition, made worse by the economic impacts of COVID-19, threatens its future. Kansas’ rural communities, where broadband access and nearby stores are limited or nonexistent, heavily rely on the services of the Postal Service as the means of staying connected and competitive.
In Kansas, we know the crippling impact losing the Postal Service can have on rural communities. And with the recent data showing the financial implications the COVID-19 pandemic will have on the Postal Service and its thousands of employees, now is the time to begin serious discussions on best practices that will preserve and protect the Postal Service.
Congress has a Constitutional duty to ensure the U.S. Postal Service is maintained and continues providing its essential public services. During the past three sessions of Congress, I have worked closely with my colleagues in the House and the Senate to introduce postal reform legislation, and today, I sent a letter to the Postmaster General to request a meeting to discuss these legislative reforms as well as the recent restructuring of the USPS.
I also cosponsored S.4174, the Postal Service Emergency Assistance Act. This legislation provides emergency funding to the Postal Service in order to cover losses directly related to COVID-19. Additionally, S.4174 directs the USPS Board of Governors to develop a long-term solvency plan that it must submit to Congress within nine months of the bill’s enactment.
As the nation begins recovering from COVID-19, we cannot risk losing the Postal Service, especially as the 2020 election approaches. To learn more about my commitment to the USPS, read my recent editorial here in the Salina Journal.
President Signs Veterans’ Housing Legislation Into Law
Last week, President Trump signed into law my bill that will allow disabled and blind veterans to adapt their homes to fit their disability. The Ryan Kules and Paul Benne Specially Adaptive Housing Improvement Act of 2019 is named after Spring Hill native, Army Colonel (Ret.) Paul Benne and Captain (Ret.) Ryan Kules. Both of these veterans previously used the VA’s Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant program to adapt their home, and both were tireless advocates to expand this benefit so it better serves veterans.
This legislation – developed to prevent future difficulties similar to those Col. Benne faced while trying to access an SAH grant – will allow blind veterans to access this grant program and double the maximum number of awarded grants from three to six per veteran. It will also increase the number of authorized applications per fiscal year from 30 to 120.
The Ryan Kules and Paul Benne Specially Adaptive Housing Improvement Act would not be a reality without Colonel Benne and his wife, Christine, whose willingness to share their story will help veterans for years to come. I was thankful to work with them and Capt. Kules, another Fort Riley soldier who used the SAH grant program and who continues to be a fierce advocate for disabled veterans.
Unfortunately, Col. Benne passed away in December, 2019 due to complications from his disability. His legacy will live on through Christine’s continued service and through the countless veterans that will be positively impacted by his advocacy.
Read more about this legislation here on WIBW.
Applauding the Israel and UAE Announcement
Last week’s announcement that Israel and the United Arab Emirates will begin normalizing relations is momentous for the region, publicly demonstrating Israel’s increased acceptance among Arab states. I received a briefing from Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun on the announcement and what we may expect going forward. 19 of 22 Arab states still do not recognize Israel, and it is my hope that more Arab states will follow the UAE’s lead. I commend President Trump and his team for their role in making this historic agreement a reality.
Bringing Aid to Kansas
Since this pandemic started, Kansas has received more than $13 billion of federal aid to help keep our hospitals operating despite decreased revenues, increase the capacity of our state government to respond to the pandemic, support our airports that saw a steep decline in air traffic, expand testing capacity and contact tracing across the state, and facilitate necessary changes to our health system to continue to provide care with necessary precautions in place. This funding has helped us weather this storm and put us on the right track to safely reopening businesses and schools, provide care through new platforms such as telehealth and bolster businesses that are hurting during this pandemic. I will continue to monitor COVID-19 across the state, including the costs for caring for COVID patients and other COVID-related costs to determine where additional assistance is appropriate.
Visiting the Olympic Training Center
This week, I had the opportunity to tour the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s (USOPC) Colorado Springs Olympic and Paralympic Training Center. Established in 1977, the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center (OPTC) is the central training location for the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and America’s Olympic athletes. Each year more than 1,500 Olympic hopefuls travel from across the country to train at the center in hopes of being an Olympian.
During my visit I spoke with the CEO of USOPC, Sarah Hirshland, about the importance of creating a culture of health and safety for our athletes while at the center and throughout the Olympic movement. The Olympics have long been a point of pride for the United States and Americans so we must do everything we can to ensure the next generations is able to pursue their Olympic dreams and feel safe doing it. After conducting four hearings and an investigation into abuse of Olympic athletes, I introduced the Empowering Olympic, Paralympic, and Amateur Athletes Act, which passed the Senate on Tuesday, August 4. This legislation will give Olympians a bigger voice and provide systemic changes to the culture of the Olympic movement. As Chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, with jurisdiction over amateur sports, I will continue to work with my colleagues in both the Senate and the House of Representatives to protect America’s young athletes.
Providing Support for Kansas Small Businesses
Last week, the Economic Development Administration (EDA) awarded $2 million in CARES Act Recovery Assistance grants to five EDA Economic Development District organizations across Kansas to update development plans and fortify programs to assist communities responding to the coronavirus pandemic. These grants are an investment into small businesses that support local jobs and provide invaluable resources to many communities across the region. As Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, (CJS) and Related Agencies, I support the ongoing and critical mission of the EDA to assist the economic activity of our communities, especially during this pandemic. I will continue to work with the Department of Commerce and my colleagues in the Senate to ensure that Kansas makes a lasting economic recovery from the impact of COVID-19.
Seeking Answers from the Army Corps
On Thursday, I requested information with Congressman Roger Marshall from the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James on the Army Corps’ non-recreational outgrant policy. This policy dictates how the Corps decides to allow entities to use Army Corps-owned land for non-recreational projects, including utilities, pipelines, or roadways. The current policy requires applicants to provide a “direct benefit to the [federal] government” or that there be “no viable alternative” to the proposed plan. Applicants are also required to complete an extensive environmental assessment, which causes delays and additional expenses for critical infrastructure projects like broadband connectivity.
Recently, the City of Hillsboro partnered with TCT, a Council Grove-based telecommunications company, on a fiber optic project that would route the cable across Army Corps land at Marion Lake and would require permission from the Corps. However, TCT had to change the route of the cable to avoid Army Corps-owned land due to the strenuous requirements of the non-recreational outgrant policy. I sent this letter to help clarify the Corps’ current policy and prevent delays to future projects. I will continue to work with the Army Corps and Kansas stakeholders to make certain that critical broadband projects are not unnecessarily hindered.
Visiting a Rural Health Center in Colby
This week, I visited the Citizens Medical Center to meet with the leadership team. We discussed the need for increased access to personal protection equipment (PPE) and making certain we are able to manufacture enough PPE here in the U.S. so we are not reliant on other countries to refill our stockpile, and the need for more COVID-19 testing in rural areas. We also discussed how to safely care for elderly residents in long-term care while balancing keeping them healthy and making certain they are able to spend valuable time with their families.
Thank you to Greg Unruh, CEO, David McCorkle, Ancillary Services Administrator, Jenny Niblock, Chief Clinical Officer and Ryan Stover, Chief Financial Officer, who shared with me their concerns and ideas to help rural medical centers better serve their communities during this pandemic.
Discussing the Future of Kansas Agriculture
While in Colby I also stopped by the Farm Credit of Western Kansas in Colby to hear more about the financial impact this pandemic is having on agriculture in our state. Kansas farmers and ranchers earn a living by raising crops and livestock, and they are vital to our nation’s food chain. As we continue to discuss additional COVID-19 relief packages, I will work to make certain our producers receive the aid and resources they need to continue providing Americans with quality and affordable food.
Thank you to Randy Wilson, President and CEO, for allowing me to visit with him and his team to discuss the state of agriculture in northwest Kansas.
Supporting Initiatives to Expand Rural Broadband
I met with S&T, a telecom cooperative serving northwest Kansas, to learn more about its current services and initiatives relating to rural broadband. Rural broadband is extremely important for the future of western Kansas, and the need for effective, efficient and reliable broadband has only increased during this pandemic.
It was great to hear that S&T stepped up to provide over 100 students within the Brewster school district high-speed internet so they could continue learning from home during the spring semester. We also discussed S&T’s support of Rural and Remote, an initiative that would allow people living in rural areas to work remotely for companies across the nation, and the company’s commitment to providing high-speed internet to people going through the program.
Initiatives to expand broadband in rural America are important for the success of many of our rural communities, and I appreciated talking with CEO Zack O’Dell and his team to learn about the great work they are doing in northwest Kansas.
Speaking at Goodland Kiwanis
It was great to join folks in Goodland to speak at the Kiwanis Club and meet with school leaders.
At the Kiwanis Club, I provided a Washington update and discussed the current COVID-19 Phase IV negotiations. We are spending too many trillions of dollars, and Phase IV needs to be focused on our health, with resources for more testing, personal protective equipment (PPE), vaccine development and distribution and students returning to school. We also discussed the VA MISSION Act and plans to reopen schools this fall.
Meeting with USD 325 in Goodland
While in Goodland, I also met with USD 325 Superintendent Bill Biermann and his curriculum team to hear about how the end of the spring semester went for them, their plans for the fall and the extensive curriculum overhaul they are doing to accommodate online learning. I was pleased to hear that nearly all of their students have access to internet at home, and that they have many precautions in place to make sure students can learn safely at school. The educators conveyed to me the importance of classroom learning and are working to provide a safe environment for both them and their students.
Thank you to everyone who spoke with me in Goodland and for the insightful conversations.
Advancing Aviation Opportunities in Kansas
This week, I had the opportunity to meet with state leaders in the aviation field to discuss the DOD’s Agility Prime program, including a briefing with Col. Nathan Diller the AFWERX Director. Agility Prime is an Air Force run program that seeks to accelerate the commercial market for advanced air mobility vehicles. During our meeting we also had the opportunity to discuss Advanced Air Mobility, a focus by NASA to help emerging aviation markets safely develop an air transportation system that moves people and cargo to places not previously served by aviation. With Kansas’ long history in aviation, we are in a prime spot to assist these agencies meet their goals, and I look forward to ensuring our state is part of these emerging programs.
Securing Grant for Topeka Metro Transit Authority Grant
This week, I had the pleasure of announcing a nearly $5 million Department of Transportation grant for the Topeka Metro Transit Authority (MTA). The MTA works diligently to connect citizens with their community, and these federal resources will further support their mission. This funding will add seven diesel buses to the Topeka MTA’s fleet, providing an electric utility redundant connection to safeguard against electrical failure and installing solar-powered signage displays.
Affordable local transit is important to the economies of our metro areas, and I look forward to continuing my work with local leaders to modernize the Topeka transit system.
Read more about the grant here in WIBW.
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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