Kansas Common Sense

Coronavirus Update

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.

Coronavirus Update

Please take precautions to keep you and your families safe, and please call your primary care physician if you feel are experiencing symptoms related to the coronavirus. We are taking this threat seriously, and we will face this crisis head-on as a nation.  

To find further resources on how to protect you and your family, visit coronavirus.gov or the Kansas Department of Health and Environment website here.

This week, Governor Laura Kelly issued a statewide stay home order effective through April 19. More information can be found here.

Supporting Kansas Priorities in the CARES Act

On Wednesday night, the Senate passed the ‘Phase III’ relief bill, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This legislation represents an effort to help people wherever they are in our economic system and provide the support they need to weather this storm. The CARES Act is far from perfect and includes provisions I would not support in ordinary circumstances, but hospitals need supplies, small businesses need loans, farmers and ranchers need certainty and folks who are out of work, through no fault of their own, need relief.

This legislation addresses the health care and research needs in response to COVID-19 by providing direct assistance to health care providers treating COVID-19 patients, increasing payments to Critical Access Hospitals during this pandemic and addressing medical supply shortages by providing resources for personal protective equipment, ventilators and other medical supplies. It also provides additional resources for producing a vaccine, the CDC’s public health preparedness and response, and National Science Foundation research on COVID-19.

Beyond health care, Phase III provides relief to small businesses in an effort to keep employees on their payroll and pay for rent and utilities. The legislation also provides additional resources for state-run unemployment insurance programs by increasing the weekly payment and will help individuals and families pay rent and other bills through direct payments.

A number of provisions I advocated for are also included in this legislation including free, expanded testing for COVID-19, relief for the aviation industry in Kansas, additional resources for the FCC for increased telecommunications use, support for community banks and flexibility for increased lending, and resources for the USDA to provide support for farmers and ranchers, including livestock producers.

To read more about the CARES Act, please click here.

Securing Resources for Kansas Health Facilities

We are in the middle of a pandemic, and every hospital, clinic and health care center is doing their part to help stop the spread of this virus and treat people who are sick. This week, I announced that 18 health care facilities in Kansas will be receiving additional resources from HHS to help fight COVID-19. These resources will help provide timely relief and support for Kansas medical services as they continue their work to keep their communities safe.

Read more from KSHB by clicking here.

Connecting with Kansans through Local Media

At a time when social distancing is very important to help flatten the curve, I have been working to connect to Kansans through local radio and television. Over the past week I have called into KCMO 103.7 and KMBZ 98.1 in Kansas City,  KINA 910 in Salina, KZRG 102.9 in Pittsburg, KNSS 1330 in Wichita, KMAN 1350 in Manhattan, as well as conducted several interviews for local TV. Tune in to your local radio stations as I continue working to reach Kansans in your home communities across the state.

To watch my interview with WIBW, click here. To watch my interview with KSNT, click here.

Speaking with the Kansas Hospital Association

This week, I participated in Kansas Hospital Association’s bi-weekly call and spoke with over 100 hospital and health care professionals regarding the situation our health care facilities are facing in Kansas during COVID-19. Governor Laura Kelly was also on the call. During the call, we discussed federal assistance they can expect in the near future, the importance of telemedicine and increased access to broadband. Thank you KHA President Tom Bell for hosting and all those that participated.

Personal Calls to Health Care Leaders Across Kansas

Over the past week, I have made a number of personal calls to health care leaders across our state including CEO of the Wesley Medical Center Bill Voloch, CEO of The University of Kansas Health System Bob Page, CEO of Ascension Via Christi Don King and CEO of Stormont Vail Health Robert Kenagy to hear updates on how their health care facilities are handling COVID-19. These calls have been very informative and allow me to better understand the next steps that I need to take to help Kansas.

Discussing Unemployment Insurance with Secretary Garcia

On Friday, I spoke with Kansas Department of Labor Secretary Delia Garcia regarding how Kansas is prepared to handle unemployment insurance claims during these hard economic times. Through no fault of their own, Kansans are in challenging circumstances financially and need support. The CARES Act signed into law this weekend included a significant financial boost to state-run unemployment insurance programs, which will raise the previous rate by $600 per week during for the next four months. I appreciated the conversation with Secretary Garcia and her efforts to support the people of our state.

For information regarding Kansas unemployment insurance during COVID-19, please click here.

Speaking with Small Business Administration District Director

On Saturday, I spoke with Wayne Bell, the U.S. Small Business Adminstration (SBA) District Director out of Wichita, regarding emergency loans available for Kansas small businesses during COVID-19. Phase III will provide additional resources for the SBA to support emergency loans to keep people employed and businesses up and running during these challenging times. We discussed the Wichita office’s resources to be able to assist local businesses with their applications and how quickly we can expect this program to provide relief. I appreciated the conversation and thank Director Bell for his dedication to small businesses in Kansas.

If you own a small business and need to apply for a SBA disaster assistance loan, click here.

Calling for Tariffs Deferments During COVID-19

Last week, I joined my colleagues in urging Secretary Steven Mnuchin to defer tariff payments during the COVID-19 emergency. Many businesses are facing serious cash flow problems due to the impacts of coronavirus on the economy. Retailers have already had to close more than 47,000 stores in the United States, and manufacturers have shut their doors to protect workers. This letter urges Secretary Mnuchin to issue a directive to U.S. Customs and Border Protection to defer all tariffs for at least 90 days, or until the crisis passes. I will continue to work with the Administration to ensure American businesses, manufacturers, and workers are not negatively impacted by tariffs during this fight against COVID-19.

Urging the FTC to Protect Seniors from COVID-19 Scams

On Thursday, I led a letter to Chairman Joseph Simons of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) with 33 of my colleagues. In response to the recent increase in senior scams related to COVID-19, the letter called on the FTC to better inform seniors about coronavirus scams and assist victims in understanding their recourse options to ensure that they are protected from attempts to financially exploit them during the pandemic. Each year, American seniors lose nearly $3 billion to financial scams. During this time of increased fear and uncertainty, we must protect our most vulnerable citizens from those who wish to capitalize on this pandemic by defrauding the public. As Chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection, I remain committed to ensuring the FTC is fulfilling its responsibility to protect seniors from fraudulent crimes.

Read more about COVID-19 scams targeting seniors in The New York Times here

Speaking with the State Department

On Wednesday, the State Department provided a briefing regarding activities to bring home Americans overseas. Held for members of the State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee on Appropriations, I spoke with the Under Secretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao about coordinating emergency flights and the challenges they are facing, including in Peru and Honduras, where many Americans remain. Returning so many Americans is an unprecedented action undertaken by the State Department, and I am grateful for the efforts of the many working on this within the department. It is imperative that every American seeking to return to their loved is able to do so. My office is currently assisting many Kansans abroad, and I am hopeful we can get them home quickly and safely.

If you are a U.S. citizen abroad, please make certain you are enrolled in the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) by visiting step.state.gov. This will ensure you receive alerts and you can be located in an emergency.

If you or a loved one are abroad and need help, please contact my office at 202-224-6521 to see how we can help you during this time.

Postponing the Tokyo Olympics

This week, the International Olympic Committee announced the 2020 Summer Olympic Games to be held in Tokyo, Japan, have been postponed due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Many questions still remain unanswered. Our athletes have worked years, some their whole lives, to be Olympians, and they deserve answers regarding the future of the Tokyo Games.

While delaying the games is necessary to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, not just at the games but also in the trials and practices leading up to the games, the IOC needs to be transparent, clear and unified with its plans moving forward. There are questions that need to be answered such as how do we protect the health of these athletes, and when will the games be held? Our athletes deserve to know what steps are being taken to ensure the best possible outcome. Earlier this month, as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Commerce Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection with jurisdiction over the health and safety of Olympic athletes, Sen. Blumenthal and I sent a letter to the President of the IOC to get answers to these and many other questions. I remain committed to ensuring the health and safety of American athletes and spectators at the Tokyo Games.

Passing Legislation Inspired by a Kansas Veteran

This week, the United States Senate passed the Ryan Kules and Paul Benne Specially Adaptive Housing Improvement Act of 2019. I introduced this bill, along with Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), to expand Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant eligibility for seriously injured, ill or blind veterans. It is named after two veterans who were stationed at Ft. Riley – Army Colonel (Ret.) Paul Benne and Army Captain (Ret.) Ryan Kules. This legislation would expand the Specially Adaptive Housing benefit by including blind veterans who were not previously eligible, increase the amount of money available in each grant, double the maximum number of awarded grants from 3 to 6 per veteran, and increase the number of authorized applications per Fiscal Year from 30 to 120. The bill will now be sent to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

It was an honor to usher this legislation through the Senate, but I do so with a heavy heart as Colonel Benne ultimately lost his battle to a rare degenerative disease on December 7, 2019. I want to thank Colonel Benne, a Spring Hill native, and his wife, Christine, for their decades of selfless service to our nation. Their advocacy, resiliency and willingness to share their story will undoubtedly help many veterans in the future. In addition, I want to thank Captain Kules for being a tireless advocate for this important legislation so veterans can better utilize their benefits in a way that best fits their needs. I urge the House to quickly approve this legislation in honor of Colonel Benne, so we can provide greater support and improve the quality of life for many of our nation’s veterans.

Read more about this legislation it the Manhattan Mercury by clicking here.

2020 Census Reminder

Your response to the 2020 Census matters, and the results can shape many different aspects of your community over the next decade. Between March 12-20, your home should receive an official Census Bureau form in the mail with information on how to respond. When filling out the Census, you should respond with information about your residence on April 1, 2020. Learn more or take the census online at 2020census.gov.

Advancing Legislation to Support Veterans

Website Accessibility Act

This week, I was pleased to announce the Senate's passage of the Veterans Administration (VA) Website Accessibility Act, a bipartisan bill that I introduced with Senator Bob Casey (D-Penn.). Blind and disabled veterans often have difficulties accessing VA websites, limiting their ability to learn about the benefits and resources available to them. This legislation requires the VA to study the accessibility of its websites for blind and disabled veterans and report to Congress on their plans to fix any barriers to access. I appreciated working with Sen. Casey on this important piece of legislation that will ultimately benefit blind and disabled veterans across the country. I look forward to the bill’s passage in the House, allowing this legislation to head to the president’s desk.

VA Tele-Hearing Modernization Act

This week, the Senate passed the VA Tele-Hearing Modernization Act. This legislation would allow veterans to receive a telehearing with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals from a location other than a VA facility. Currently veterans can only make appeals in person at the board or via telehearings from VA facilities. This bill will allow veterans who do not live close to a VA facility to hold a telehearing rather than traveling long distances to a VA facility and requires the VA to provide a secure internet platform for the telehearing.

I believe that every veteran deserves the chance to appeal their case to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, and this legislation helps expand veterans’ access to that process regardless of where our veterans live. This legislation helps make it a little easier for veterans across the country to be heard.

Additionally, the need for this expanded access is particularly timely as our nation faces a pandemic. As more face-to-face options for veterans at VA centers are temporarily suspended to stop the spread of COVID-19, this bill offers veterans the ability to continue their hearings from other locations and with their own equipment, so that they don’t have to wait for their appeals to be heard until after this crisis is over.

Thanks to Kansans During COVID-19

There are many challenges across Kansas right now, and people are pulling together to try to make the best of a difficult circumstance. Within our state, there are many people that must continue showing up to work, at risk to themselves, to meet the needs to others. The list is long and it is impossible to capture them all in a single list, but I want to extend my sincerest thanks to each one of you for the sacrifices you are making and the care and concern you are demonstrating for others. From the health care workers fighting on the frontlines to public servants making certain utilities stay on to those in the supply chain making sure groceries are available – thank you for taking care of others.

Watch my full message to Kansans here.

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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