Kansas Common Sense
Nov 01 2021
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.
Inflation Rates are Hurting Kansas Families
On Thursday, I spoke on the Senate floor regarding inflation rates and the Democrats’ tax-and-spend framework.
The average price of gas is $3.09, up from $1.93 last year. Electricity prices are up 5.2 percent this year and heating bills could jump as much as 54 percent this winter. Across the board products like eggs, chicken, beef and used cars are more costly. This week, the New York Times reported that Thanksgiving could be the most expensive meal in the history of the holiday.
It’s time for Congress to turn off the spending spigot. As Americans face higher prices at the gas station and grocery store, we must work towards fixing our supply chain issues, returning to being energy independent, helping Americans return to work and reining in our spending in order to slow down the rate of inflation.
Supporting Our Nation’s Veterans
Seeking Answers on How the Vaccine Mandate Will Impact VA Services
As Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I led an inquiry with my Republican colleagues questioning VA Secretary Denis McDonough on the vaccine mandate and how the mandate will impact the VA’s ability to provide services to veterans if it terminates employees who choose not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
The VA must provide transparency on whether terminating employees as a result of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate will negatively affect the ability of VA to provide care and services to veterans. With the November 22, 2021, vaccination deadline for all other VA employees approaching, Congress must assess the impact this policy is having on the ability for veterans to receive care and benefits from VA. We continue to encourage veterans, their families and those that care for them to protect themselves from COVID-19 through vaccinations, but we must ensure that VA has the capacity to continue to care for veterans. The full letter can be found here.
Read more from Stars and Stripes here.
Working to Honor Those Who Served in the Global War on Terrorism
On Wednesday, I spoke on the Senate floor regarding the fall of Afghanistan and the service and sacrifice of those who have served in the global war on terrorism.
I've welcomed hundreds of WWII, Korea and Vietnam veterans to the memorials built in their honor on the National Mall. Those who served in the War on Terror deserve that same honor and a place they can come to reflect, heal and honor their fallen brother and sisters. The first step in honoring these brave servicemembers is considering the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Location Act on the Senate floor. Listen to my remarks by clicking here or below.
Bill to Ensure Full Transparency on VA COVID-19 Emergency Funds Heads to the President’s Desk
This week, the Senate unanimously passed my legislation with Sen. Jon Tester, the VA Transparency & Trust Act of 2021. This legislation will require the VA to report to Congress on the tens of billions of dollars in emergency funding provided to the VA to respond to COVID-19.
Last year, Congress acted quickly to provide COVID-19 relief to the VA, and it is our responsibility to make certain those tax payer dollars are being used efficiently to serve our veterans. This legislation requires the VA to submit biweekly reports to Congress on the use of these funds to prevent waste, fraud or abuse, and I urge the president to sign this important bill into law.
Reducing Veteran Homelessness
Our nation’s veterans who are at risk or currently experiencing homelessness deserve access to targeted employment training, no matter where they live. This week, I introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to expand the Department of Labor (DOL) Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP) to all 50 states and U.S. territories. HVRP offers customized employment and training services to homeless or at-risk-of-homelessness veterans to address their specific barriers to employment.
Not all states, including Kansas, have organizations that are receiving HVRP grants for the FY2021 cycle. That is why I introduced the Reaching Every Homeless Veteran Act of 2021 to ensure HVRP grants are awarded in every state and U.S. territory, while maintaining the same high-quality application criteria standards. As we continue our work to drive down the veteran unemployment rate, this legislation will help to make certain veterans have access to the specialized employment services supported by HVRP.
Meeting with Andrew Marshall, National Commander of DAV
This week, I met with Andrew Marshall, the newly elected National Commander for Disabled American Veterans (DAV). I am grateful for veterans who devote themselves to serving their fellow veterans and enjoyed hearing about the DAV’s recently concluded national convention where they considered over 500 resolutions from its membership and adopted more than 200 of them.
Commander Marshall highlighted just a few of the priorities DAV is focusing on for helping veterans including his appreciation for the MISSION Act and the importance of giving veterans options to get the care that is best for them. A strong community care program strengthens the Veterans Health Administration and improves health outcomes for veterans. We also discussed the importance of mental health care and suicide prevention for veterans. I noted VA is making progress on developing the community suicide prevention grant program as required by the Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act signed into law last year. DAV and Commander Marshall provide valuable input to me and other members of Congress as we make certain our country delivers the right care and benefits to our veterans at the right time. I am grateful for their partnership in this endeavor and thank them for their time this week.
Hearing to Discuss Veterans’ Employment and Education Opportunities
The Senate VA Committee held a hearing on Wednesday to discuss success after service and how to improve veterans’ employment and education opportunities. I heard from witnesses, including Kansan Dr. Arthur DeGroat, about the ways we can continue to support servicemembers and veterans transitioning out of military service.
Dr. Arthur DeGroat, the Executive Director of Military & Veterans Affairs at Kansas State University, focused on his experiences working with veterans in Kansas and his work to bolster military-related education, research and outreach service programs. Prior to his work at K-State, he had a 22-year military service career, including combat as a tank commander in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. During the hearing, we discussed that despite the great strides that have been made in recent years to improve the in-service military to civilian transition programs, continued community engagement is vital to enhance opportunities for veterans as they enter civilian life. He brought to light the great work K-State is doing to assist transitioning servicemember veterans in the community as they attend school and provided meaningful insight to how the work being done in Manhattan to help veterans achieve economic success can be replicated nationwide.
I appreciated hearing from Dr. DeGroat in our nation’s capital and the time he took to be with my committee.
Questioning Big Tech at Commerce Hearing
On Tuesday, as a member of the Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security, I questioned representatives of TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat about their responsibility to prevent harmful social media trends from spreading and about the importance of Americans to be able to correct or delete their data that is being held by Big Tech companies.
Americans need greater control over their data that is collected and used by businesses, including social media giants. That is why my data privacy bill, the Consumer Data Privacy and Security Act, would ensure covered entities provide consumers with the ability to access, correct and erase their personal data. The bill would also prohibit companies from collecting data without consumers’ consent. I will continue working with my Commerce Committee colleagues to ensure that social media companies’ practices are thoroughly examined and to make certain that a comprehensive federal data privacy standard is enacted.
Service Academy Day in Hutchinson
On Saturday, I was at the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson where I hosted candidates from across the state who are seeking to apply for admission to U.S. Service Academies. Nominating Kansas students to attend service academies is one of my greatest responsibilities as a United States Senator and getting to speak with them is a highlight of my year. Interviews and recommendations are determined by a board of Kansans that each bring unique military and public service experiences and backgrounds to the selection process.
I am proud of these students for their desire to serve our nation, and I am grateful to my Service Academy Selection Board for the thoughtful consideration and time they put into the interview and selection process. These students represent Kansas’ best qualities – hardworking, dedicated and humble – and I look forward to reviewing the selection board’s recommendations.
Read more from the Hutchinson News here.
Connecting Farmers and Ranchers with Mental Health Resources
This week, I announced a U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network grant to the Kansas Department of Agriculture to help connect farmers, ranchers and those in agriculture-related occupations to mental health resources.
This federal investment will provide our agricultural community with important mental health resources to help during trying times. Farmers, ranchers and those working within the agriculture industry livelihoods depend on factors largely outside their control, from the weather to volatile commodity prices, creating stress that can be challenging to face alone. I was a champion of the FARMERS FIRST Act, included in the 2018 Farm Bill, to make certain our nation’s agricultural community has access to necessary mental health programs, and I am pleased this grant will spread awareness about the resources offered to Kansans who need assistance coping with ag-related stress.
Stressing the Importance of Community Banks and Rural Kansas Communities
During Thursday’s Senate Banking Committee hearing, I questioned the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director on the impact of CFPB regulations on our community lenders and stressed the importance of relationship-based banking in our Kansas communities. Excessive regulatory red tape that only increases the costs of credit continues to be one of the biggest hurdles our lenders face in best serving their customers’ needs. I also advocated for the CFPB to issue better guidance that provides regulated entities with clear rules of the road. I appreciated the director expressing his support for preserving relationship banking, and I will continue to press my Banking Committee colleagues on effective ways to increase access to credit in our communities.
Humanitarian Crisis at the Southern Border
The open border polices from the Biden administration continue to fuel the humanitarian and national security crisis at the southern border. The administration continues to say our borders are closed but their actions indicate just the opposite. In July, we learned that tens of thousands of migrants were released into the interior of the country without a court date and given nothing more than a list of ICE offices with instructions to report within 60 days. They relied on this policy yet again when, in August, more than 12,000 of the Haitians that gathered under the bridge in Del Rio were released. This week, the Wall Street Journal reported the Biden administration is considering payouts of up to $450,000 per person to families who were separated at the border during the last administration.
This is not only an absurd policy decision, but another extremely dangerous move by this administration that will only encourage even more families to make the dangerous trek to our southern border and reinforce that they could be rewarded for breaking the law, possibly with half a million dollars. President Biden and his administration must immediately take action to end the humanitarian crisis and secure our border.
Meeting with Advanced Air Mobility Leadership Teams
This week, I met with the leadership teams of Advanced Air Mobility companies that are changing the frontier of aviation. Advanced Air Mobility will utilize a revolutionary new aircraft that will further connect people and cargo in areas not served or underserved by aviation. JoeBen Bevirt of Joby Aviation spoke to me about the importance of government agencies continually paving the way forward for this industry while safety remains at the forefront.
I was also pleased to meet with Beta Technologies Founder, Kyle Cook, who spoke about the possibilities that lie ahead for Advanced Air Mobility. As conversations on this emerging industry continue to develop, I look forward to encouraging innovation in this field while ensuring Kansas has a role to play in this evolving and diversifying industry.
Meeting with Kansas Leaders in Washington, D.C.
Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce
This week, I met with Matt Pivarnik and Curtis Sneden with the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce. Our discussions surrounded important city projects planned for the community and the recent establishment of Topeka’s Downtown Innovation Center. The center will consist of three buildings on Kansas Avenue specially developed to house entrepreneurs and start-ups and further Topeka’s innovative spirit. I appreciated catching up with the leadership team, and I look forward to working with them to further the success of the Topeka community.
Heartland Credit Union Association Members
On Wednesday, I met with the Heartland Credit Union Association, an organization that represents credit unions serving more than 900,000 Kansans across the state. During the meeting, we discussed the issues confronting local credit unions that negatively impact their members and the invasive IRS reporting proposal for any amount over $600 entering or leaving an account. Excessive regulations cut customer services and raise costs. By alleviating these burdens, customers can continue benefitting from robust financial offerings and innovative products. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Kansas credit unions and banks showed their strength facilitating economic stimulus checks and distributing federal aid programs to small businesses and families, and will continue to play a vital role in Kansas’ economic growth.
Thank you to Mike Augustine of Frontier Community Credit Union, Preston Ford of Azura Credit Union, Walter Pirnot and Rick Schier of CommunityAmerica Credit Union, Ron Smeltzer and Tara Dimick of Envista Credit Union, Darrin DePriest of Frontier Community Credit Union, Laura Eblin and Serri Helm of Mazuma Credit Union, Moji Rosson of Meritrust Credit Union, John Davis of Wichita Federal Credit Union and to Lisa Althoff-Simmons, Brad Douglas, Amy McLard and John McKechnie of Heartland Credit Union Association for your time.
University of Kansas Chancellor Dr. Doug Girod
On Tuesday, I met with University of Kansas Chancellor Dr. Doug Girod where we discussed the importance of increased investment in medical research, as well as the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). As the lead Republican on the Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) Appropriations subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over NSF, I have consistently worked to increase NSF funding in order to afford top tier research universities like KU the resources necessary to continue to conduct its cutting-edge research. I appreciate the Chancellor’s focus on furthering KU’s activities and the university’s overall mission to lift students and society by educating leaders who will make a positive impact in their communities.
Discussing Supply Chain Disruptions with National Cotton Council
This week, I met with Kent Fountain, Chairman of the National Cotton Council, and Reece Langley, Vice President of Government Affairs, to discuss issues facing cotton producers. Disruptions in supply chains have made it increasingly difficult and more expensive for agricultural producers to purchase fertilizer, machinery parts and other inputs, while at the same time creating challenges to get cotton and other commodities out of ports to export markets. We also discussed the importance of USDA moving forward quickly on the implementation of disaster assistance for 2020 and 2021. Cotton acres have continued to expand in Kansas over recent years, with 120,000 acres planted this year. I look forward to continuing to work with cotton producers to address challenges facing the industry.
Blue Origin Comes to Wichita!
This summer, I hosted Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith in Wichita to showcase the capabilities of our aerospace manufacturers, and this week’s announcement of Blue Origin's long-term partnerships with four manufacturers further demonstrates Wichita’s title as the ‘Air Capital of the World.’
Aerospace manufacturers in the ‘Air Capital of the World’ are vital contributors to the new era of space. With the highest concentration of aerospace manufacturing workers in the nation, Wichita is the future of flight, and we have the talent to prove it.
Thank you to the Greater Wichita Partnership for assisting my office in hosting Blue Origin in Wichita this summer and introducing them to these great companies. Read more about this announcement from the Wichita Business Journal here.
Visiting Vibrant Health in KCK
On Monday, before heading back to D.C., I toured Vibrant Health’s facility to learn about the vital services they provide to Wyandotte County communities like primary medical care, dental care, behavioral health and women’s health services. We also discussed how Vibrant Health used funding from COVID-19 relief legislation like the CARES Act to continue to compensate their staff when they had to limit the amount of services they could provide at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and to improve their facilities and the services they provide to their community. Through their four locations across Kansas City, Vibrant Health serves 20,000 Kansas annually. Thank you to Patrick Salle for the tour.
Remembering Rep. Russ Jennings
I was saddened to hear of the passing of Rep. Russ Jennings – my friend for many years and a true advocate for southwest Kansas. Russ was a principled leader who cared deeply for his community and looked for ways to serve Lakin and the state of Kansas at every turn. In the statehouse, he was known for his depth of knowledge and the care and compassion he showed towards everyone. Robba and I extend our deepest sympathies to his wife, Judy, and their children and grandchildren. Read more about his life from the Topeka Capital Journal here.
Information for Students
High School Juniors: Become a Senate Page
Senate Pages play an important role in day-to-day operations of the United States Senate. High school students who are selected for and participate in the Senate Page Program are afforded a unique opportunity to work in the Senate and learn about Congress and the legislative process while maintaining their regular coursework. The Senate Page Program is administered by the Sergeant-at-Arms, the Secretary of the Senate and the party secretaries.
Spring Page eligibility is limited to students who have completed their sophomore year of high school and who will be 16 or 17 years old on or before the date of appointment. Applications for the Spring 2022 program are due this Sunday, November 7. More information on the program, eligibility and application can be found here. Applicants are encouraged to apply early.
Spring 2022 Internship
An internship in my office provides a unique opportunity for students to work closely with my staff on behalf of Kansans, and applications for the Spring 2022 Intern Session are now available. Interns witness the workings of Congress from a unique perspective and develop knowledge and professional skills that will serve them in their future career pursuits. My office is accepting applications for the Spring 2022 session though this Sunday, November 7. Please visit my website to hear from past interns, find the application link and learn more about this opportunity by clicking here.
Recognizing Down Syndrome Awareness
October was Down Syndrome Awareness Month - a time to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of the thousands of Americans with Down syndrome. As Senate Co-Chair of the Congressional Down Syndrome Task Force, I recognize each of them brings a special joy and light to our lives.
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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