Kansas Common Sense
Mar 08 2021
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Identifying the Remains of Father Emil Kapaun
On Thursday, I announced that the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) had identified the remains of Kansan Father Emil Kapaun. Father Kapaun served as an Army Chaplain during WWII and the Korean War, and was taken captive as a prisoner of war in 1950. He continued to minister to Americans as a POW before passing away on May 23, 1951. Father Kapaun went above and beyond the call of duty to serve others, and his bravery and sacrifice should never be forgotten.
In 2011, one of the first pieces of legislation I introduced as a Senator was to bestow Father Kapaun with the Presidential Medal of Honor, which was awarded in 2013. In 1993, Pope John Paul II declared Father Kapaun a Servant of God, the first step toward sainthood. While this announcement came decades after his death, I hope it brings peace to his family and loved ones who will finally have the opportunity to choose his final resting place.
$1.9 Trillion “COVID-19 Relief” Package
On Saturday, following more than 24 hours of debate and votes on amendments, the Senate passed without my support the FY2021 Budget Reconciliation package, known as the American Rescue Plan Act. Forced through by Senate Democrats in a party-line vote, the legislation includes $1.9 trillion in new spending, less than 10 percent of which is directly related to COVID-19 relief.
Each of the five previous COVID-19 relief packages passed Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support. That is why I joined a group of 10 Republican senators in offering President Biden a targeted alternative, with funding focused on meaningful COVID-19 relief and centered on the manufacturing and distribution of vaccines – the most important thing we can do to get healthy and get our economy moving again.
Unfortunately, Senator Schumer and Speaker Pelosi chose to ignore our work, which was supported by a majority of Americans, and rammed through a costly bill that has little to do with COVID-19. Congress has already provided $4 trillion of COVID-19 relief through five bipartisan packages, and nearly $1 trillion have yet to be spent. This $1.9 trillion bill is filled with Democrat wish list items such as unnecessary infrastructure projects, state bailouts, climate change provisions and billions of dollars that won’t be spent for several years.
Despite the many failures of the Democrats’ relief bill, there were still some positive measures that were included in the final package. First, my amendment to protect student veterans by closing a gap in federal law allowing for-profit educational institutions to count VA and Department of Defense (DOD) funds as non-federal – incentivizing these institutions to utilize deceptive marketing toward enrolling servicemembers and veterans – was one of the few amendments to pass, and did so in a unanimous, bipartisan vote.
Second, my legislation with Congressman Estes, the Aviation Manufacturing Jobs Protection Act, was also included in the final bill. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in significant financial losses leading to widespread layoffs and furloughs in the aviation manufacturing industry. This legislation will create a program to temporarily support aviation manufacturing in order to prevent workforce reductions, ensuring this invaluable sector remains intact when demand returns. To read more about my legislation with Congressman Estes, click here.
Third, my legislation, the Small Packer Overtime and Holiday Fee Relief COVID-19 Act was also included in the final package. This legislation will support small meatpacking plants that are operating longer hours during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finally, my legislation based on the Veterans Economic Recovery Act will provide retraining opportunities for veterans who are out of work due to COVID-19 to find a job in a different occupation.
Calling for Students to Return to Classrooms
One of the most important things we can do – in fact the highest priority of many Kansans – is to get students safely back in the classroom. We know it can be done, and it can be done safely.
This week, I joined my colleagues to advocate for students across the country to safely return to the classrooms. Many students have already missed an entire year of school, and we cannot afford to have them miss any more time. Not only does this absence have an impact on the economy and whether or not parents can go to work, but it will also have a severe consequence into our kids’ futures. I’m pleased that students are back in the classroom for most of Kansas or have plans to return soon, and I urge communities across the country to safely reopen their schools.
I want to thank teachers who are doing everything they can to teach our kids virtually and also who are willing, able and interested in being back in the classroom. All teachers have been working overtime this year, and I want to thank them for their dedication to their students and for getting classrooms ready and safe for students to come back. Listen to my remarks by clicking here or below.
PPP Loan Reminder: Helping America’s Smallest Businesses
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is currently offering first and second draw loans in order to best serve America’s smallest businesses and help them get the relief they need. Currently, the PPP loan application is open exclusively to small businesses with under 20 employees through tomorrow, March 9. All eligible small businesses can apply through March 31. Click here to learn more or find a local lender.
Hearing from Veteran Organizations
Conducting a Joint Hearing with VSOs
This week the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees conducted our first two annual joint veteran service organizations (VSO) hearings. Though we were not able to meet in person, the virtual legislative proposals provided value that my colleagues and I benefit from each year, hearing directly from veterans and veteran advocates.
During the hearings, we had productive conversations with 14 different VSOs representing the many diverse corners of America’s veteran community, including The American Legion, Student Veterans of America, National Coalition of Homeless Veterans, Wounded Warrior Project, Vietnam Veterans of America and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. I look forward to continuing to partner with veterans and their VSO advocates to direct actions we can take to craft solutions to problems like the harmful effects of toxic exposures, making certain veterans’ community care is robust and reliable, the continued challenge of providing high-quality mental health care and suicide prevention services, ensuring VA’s educational benefits are best-suited to set up veterans for success after service and that our women and minority veterans have a VA that works for them. Oversight of VA’s implementation of recent legislation tackling these challenges will be crucial, and hearing from veterans on the ground is pivotal in that effort.
I look forward to hearing more from VSOs so that my work in Congress and as the lead Republican on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) best serves the needs of America’s heroes and their advocates.
Increasing Kansas Veterans Access to Telehealth Services
During these testimonies, American Legion Commander Bill Oxford announced that a VA telehealth pod will be placed in Emporia to provide health care services to rural and medically underserved veterans. In 2019, I hand delivered a request to than-VA Secretary Wilkie urging Kansas to be considered for this program, and I am pleased this service will soon benefit our state’s veterans. Expected to open by this summer as part of VA’s Accessing Telehealth through Local Area Stations (ATLAS) initiative, the ATLAS pod is equipped with technology to allow veterans to connect with their health care providers.
As the first location in Kansas, this ATLAS pod will increase our veterans’ access to health care services, especially for those living far from VA facilities. This technology will also provide an important access point for VA mental health and suicide prevention programs for Kansas veterans. Thank you to The American Legion and Commander Oxford for providing a familiar venue for this technology, Philips for facilitating the technology needed for this community-based telehealth solution and other VA ATLAS partners for working to make certain our nation’s veterans can receive quality care no matter where they live.
On Friday, I joined Emporia’s KVOE radio to discuss this announcement. Listen here.
Meeting with VSO Leaders from the Wounded Warrior Project
Prior to the joint hearings, I met with officials of the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) to discuss WWP’s specific priorities ahead of its testimony. Specifically, I visited with retired Lt. Gen. and WWP CEO Michael Linnington, along with members of WWP’s leadership team. We discussed areas of common focus, such as the need to create a framework for establishing presumptions of service-connection for veterans exposed to toxic substances during military service, improving healthcare services at VA for women veterans, and ensuring Congress properly oversees VA’s implementation of the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, a law intended to reduce bolster veteran suicide prevention services. WWP has been a staunch advocate for severely injured or ill servicemembers and veterans, so General Linnington’s perspective was one of acute value to me heading into this week’s important hearings.
Discussing Issues Facing Student Veterans
I also met virtually with Student Veterans of America, including three student veterans hailing from the SVA chapters at the University of Kansas and Kansas State University. We spoke about a variety of issues impacting student veterans today, including how to improve VA’s work study program, resources on VA’s website for student veterans and how to expand the Vet Success on Campus program. Student Veterans of America advocates each and every day for this new generation of veterans and they continue to work with Congress to improve and expand educational benefits and opportunities for our nation’s student veterans. Kansas student veterans are diligent advocates for each other and I appreciated hearing from them.
Opposing Potential Phosphate Fertilizer Tariffs
This week, I led a group of my Senate colleagues in urging Chairman of the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) Jason Kearns to not impose tariffs on certain imported phosphate fertilizers. Kansas farmers depend on affordable phosphate fertilizers to produce a variety of crops, including corn, soybeans, cotton, wheat and sorghum. Phosphorous is the second most widely used plant nutrient and accounts for approximately 20 percent of total fertilizer usage for producers. The imposition of duties on phosphate fertilizers would not only result in higher input costs for Kansas farmers but also limit their options for applying this necessary crop input. As Kansas producers recover from multiple years of low commodity prices, we must ensure policies do not raise farmers’ input costs and cause financial harm. As the lead Republican on the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees funding for the ITC, I will continue to work to avoid tariffs that will harm Kansas farmers and ranchers.
Facilitating Collaboration between Aviation Industry Leaders and Federal Agencies
American aviation is entering a new era of innovation and growth, and industry leaders should have a seat at the table as the federal government creates programs to advance the development of this technology and sets safety and operation standards.
This week, I introduced the Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) Coordination and Leadership Act to facilitate collaboration between federal agencies and civil aviation industry leaders when developing policies regarding AAM. This legislation would instruct the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation to lead a working group comprised of members from nine government agencies to engage and work with the civil aviation industry. The working group would review policies and programs to help advance the maturation of AAM aircraft operations and create recommendations regarding safety, security and federal investments necessary for the development of AAM. Wichita leads the world in aviation, and this legislation will make certain Kansas aviation leaders have a role in developing policies designed to support a new chapter in aviation.
Announcing EDA Grants to Bolster Kansas Communities
This week, I was pleased to announce two CARES Act Recovery Assistance Grants to Kansas from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA). The two grants, totaling $2 million, will benefit the northwest and northeast regions of the state. A key component of recovering from this pandemic is building back a strong economy, and these investments and new resources for Kansas will help us accomplish that goal.
Northwest Technical College in Goodland will receive $1.2 million to expand their Diesel Tech training facility, increasing their capacity to train workers to compete for high-skill, high-wage jobs and positioning the region for recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. The project, to be matched with $295,986 in local funds, is expected to create nearly 300 jobs. The Kansas Center for Entrepreneurship in Wichita will receive $800,000 to capitalize and administer a Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) to provide critical gap financing to small businesses and entrepreneurs adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic in Clay, Douglas, Franklin, Jackson, Jefferson, Leavenworth, Lyon, Marshall, Miami, Morris, Nemaha, Osage, Pottawatomie, Shawnee and Wabaunsee counties.
These grants will not only help create new jobs in our state, but also provide resources to small businesses and entrepreneurs to keep their lights on and employees on the payroll. I will continue to work with our federal agencies to make certain that Kansas is a priority when these resources are distributed, especially as our state recovers from this pandemic.
Expanding Access to Savings Accounts for People with Disabilities
This week, I introduced the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Age Adjustment Act with Senator Bob Casey to expand access to saving accounts created to help people with disabilities save for future expenses. This legislation would increase program eligibility and allow people who have acquired a disability before age 46 to open ABLE accounts. The accounts are managed by states and currently allow individuals who acquired a disability before age 26 to open a savings account without the risk of losing disability benefits. The savings plan created through the ABLE Act has provided Americans with disabilities better options in preparing for their future by removing burdensome barriers within federal entitlement programs. While the program has seen immense success, ABLE savings accounts are only available to individuals who acquire their disability prior to their 26th birthday, leaving out millions – including veterans – who would otherwise qualify. This legislation would expand the age of eligibility and help sustain this program on a long-term basis, providing substantial financial security for Americans with disabilities.
Hearing from the National Sunflower Association
This week, I met virtually with members of the National Sunflower Association (NSA) to discuss issues impacting sunflower producers. As a member of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, I work to secure U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) research funding each fiscal year that benefits Kansas growers. During our conversation, we also discussed the role of sunflowers as a pollinator, and the ability of sunflowers to fit into policies that promote environmental sustainability and climate solutions. The producers also expressed the importance of science-based approaches to evaluating environmental and climate impacts of herbicides and farming practices. Finally, we discussed the important role the Goodland, Kansas crushing plant has played for Kansas producers and the future of the facility. I will continue to work to support sunflower producers, including making sure markets exist in Kansas for their crops.
Discussing Student Loan Challenges with the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges
This week, I met virtually with K-State’s College of Veterinary Medicine as part of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. We discussed the important role the K-State veterinary school has played in processing COVID-19 tests, and the financial assistance it received from the COVID-19 relief packages passed by Congress last year. I also heard about challenges veterinary students face, including graduating with significant student debt. As a member of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, I work to secure funding for the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program to help students who serve in locations with a shortage of veterinarians pay down their student loans. I look forward to continuing to work to assist the K-State College of Veterinary Medicine and veterinarians across our state.
Meeting with Heartland Credit Union Association
This week, I met with Heartland Credit Union Association members from Wichita, Hutchinson, Topeka, Olathe, Leawood and Overland Park. We discussed credit unions’ pandemic response to support families and their communities – including substantial philanthropic efforts to address pandemic needs, PPP lending for small businesses, and payment deferrals for struggling borrowers. Financial institutions were given a leading role in distributing a significant amount of the financial support in the COVID-19 relief legislation over the past year. The efforts by credit unions and their employees on behalf of their customers and communities were critical to keeping many Kansans impacted by the pandemic afloat. Lenders are pillars of their communities and I will continue advocating for policies that increase access to credit for Kansas families and businesses.
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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