Kansas Common Sense
Jan 04 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.
Happy New Year
Throughout the year, I had the opportunity to hear from thousands of Kansans across the state, both in person and virtually, and I am extremely grateful for all of our discussions and your insight on the many issues our country continues to face.
I am also reminded of one of the most important jobs my office does: helping Kansans navigate and resolve issues with federal agencies through casework. This year, we assisted more Kansans than ever before due to the COVID-19 pandemic by helping small businesses navigate the Paycheck Protection Program, individuals receive stimulus checks, veterans needing access to their health benefits and health care providers receive additional PPE.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to my office if we can be of any assistance regarding Social Security, Medicare or veterans’ affairs, or if you have other concerns regarding federal issues. Learn more on my website here.
Robba and I are praying for your health and wellbeing and wish you a Happy New Year.
Creating Long-Term Solutions for Quivira National Wildlife Refuge
This week, I was pleased to announce that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will not request to secure water in 2021 to remedy the water impairment at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. This demonstrates the continued commitment of the FWS to work towards fulfilling the water needs of both the refuge and local producers. This summer, water management discussions between my office, the FWS and the Big Bend Groundwater Management District No. 5 (GMD5) leadership led to a Memorandum of Agreement between FWS and GMD5. Through a grant secured for watershed planning at Rattlesnake Creek and the partnership of FWS Director Aurelia Skipwith, we are on track to establish long-term solutions that will support the refuge, Kansas producers and the regional economy. Thank you to Director Skipwith and the GMD5 leaders, including Orrin Feril and Darrell Wood, that helped make this possible.
Read more about this decision here in The Hutchison News.
Speaking with Kansas Veteran Leaders
I hosted a conversation with veteran advocates throughout Kansas to discuss issues that are important to veterans and how I can continue to support those who served in uniform during the 117th Congress convenes in the New Year. As the chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I appreciate these opportunities to hear directly from veterans, so I can take their concerns and ideas to our nation’s capital.
We had an honest and productive conversation that spanned a wide variety of topics. My bill to improve access to mental health care and services for veterans, the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, was signed into law in October and will invest in community-based veteran organizations and alternative therapies to support veterans who are struggling with mental illness. Addressing veteran suicide continues to be one of my top priorities. It is reassuring to know that so many Kansan veterans are coming together to support their brothers and sisters in arms, and I look forward to working with them to support veterans in need.
Other items of interest to Kansas veterans included building a strong community care network through the MISSION Act, supporting veteran caregivers, improving access to care for those who were exposed to toxic substances, and connecting newly-separated veterans with the VA so they can receive the care and benefits they have earned.
My work as chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee will continue to center on helping veterans achieve success after service, and I look forward to working with veterans and advocates in the new Congress to achieve this goal.
MOMS Leave Act Becomes Law
Last week, Congress passed landmark defense legislation that included two of my bills to support and honor our nation’s servicemembers. The law supports our military personnel by authorizing a well-deserved three percent pay raise, investing in critical technologies and providing critical resources to help military families thrive. Two of my bills, the MOMS Leave Act and the FIRST Act, were included in the bill and became law.
The Mothers of Military Service Leave Act, or the MOMS Leave Act, will provide women serving in the National Guard and Reserve with maternity leave benefits that are equivalent to their active-duty counterparts. Previously, new mothers serving in the National Guard and Reserve Components did not have access to maternity leave benefits. This forced them to juggle their responsibilities as a new mother with their military service and often had negative impacts on their compensation or retirement points. My bill will allow new mothers to take the equivalent of six weeks of maternity leave without having to worry about their finances or points toward creditable military service.
Another one of my bills, the FIRST Act, will allow the names of fallen Big Red One soldiers to be added to the First Division Monument that is located on the White House grounds. My bill will allow the names of 1st ID soldiers who were killed in action during Operations Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and New Dawn to be added to the monument at no cost to the American taxpayer. These soldiers paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation, so it is only fitting that we honor their service in our nation’s capital.
There is no group that I hold in higher regard than our nation’s service members. I will continue to support our military and provide them with the tools they need to defend America and her interests.
Checking in with Law Enforcement in McPherson County
This week, I joined a zoom call with city officials and local law enforcement from McPherson County to discuss the daily challenges they are facing and how federal resources can best be accessed to help them overcome these challenges. I would like to thank all of the participants for taking the time to have this conversation, as these firsthand accounts are valuable to me while working for Kansas in Washington, D.C.
As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee which funds the Department of Justice (DOJ) and its grant programs, I was happy to share that in this year’s bill I was able to secure increases for existing grant programs, including the Byrne-JAG program, COPS Hiring program, and programs that support the purchase of bulletproof vests and body-worn cameras. Furthermore, I was able to ensure that a portion of these funds must go to rural departments to guarantee our small communities are able to access these grants. Our law enforcement professionals put their lives on the line every day to keep our communities safe, and I will continue to work with my Senate colleagues and the DOJ to ensure they are equipped with the resources and tools they need.
Meeting with Shawnee City Officials
On Monday, I spoke virtually with Shawnee city officials. We discussed a number of federal resources that help the Shawnee community, such as Community Development Block Grants and support from the CARES Act to aid in responding to the pandemic, including the purchase of necessary PPE.
As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the Department of Justice (DOJ), I was also pleased to hear that a DOJ Byrne-JAG grant helped the city hire five additional police officers. Thank you to City Manager Nolan Sunderland and Assistant City Manager Caitlin Gard for the update.
Getting Acquainted with New JCCC President
This week, I spoke with Johnson County Community College (JCCC) President Andy Bowne and Associate Vice President for Institutional Advancement and Governmental Affairs Kate Allen. Dr. Bowne took over as JCCC’s new president this summer, and I was pleased to hear of his efforts to make certain JCCC students still have access to a quality and affordable education during COVID-19.
I was also pleased to report that with the passage of the most recent federal relief package, JCCC will have more resources at their disposal to continue reaching students in the greater Kansas City metro area. Thank you to Dr. Bowne and Associate VP Allen for your time and the work you do on behalf of Kansas students.
Announcing $1.6 Million EDA Grant to PSU
On Tuesday, I announced a $1.6 million grant to Pittsburg State University (PSU) from the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) to provide instrumentation and equipment to the newly established National Institute for Materials Advancement at the Kansas Polymer Research Center. The EDA grant, to be located in a Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Opportunity Zone, will be matched with $400,000 in local funds and is expected to create 50 jobs, retain 25 jobs, and generate $2 million in private investment. This investment by the EDA in Pittsburg State University will create local jobs and bring critical resources to our state as we work to recover from the economic impact of COVID-19 and will help ensure that PSU remains a national leader in polymer research. As chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, I will continue to support the ongoing and important work of the EDA to create economic opportunities in our communities, especially during the ongoing pandemic.
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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