Kansas Common Sense

Coronavirus Update: Kansas Needs Widespread Testing

Please take precautions to keep you and your families safe, and please call your primary care physician if you are experiencing symptoms related to the coronavirus. It is important as individuals we each take a personal responsibility to stop the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve, including washing our hands regularly, avoiding touching our face, sneeze or cough into a tissue or the inside of our elbow and disinfecting frequently used items and surfaces as much as possible.

In the midst of this pandemic, I realize that our economy will only recover once we address the issue of people’s health. I am supportive of widespread testing efforts so that Kansans can feel secure in their health and we can begin to look forward towards economic recovery.

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.

Joining KSNT’s Special Broadcast on Coronavirus

On Wednesday night, I joined KSNT News for their special broadcast “Coronavirus and Kansas: A Town Hall Discussion.” Thank you to all the Kansans who watched and participated by sending questions to KSNT. During the broadcast, we discussed the Phase III Cares Act and its Economic Impact Payments to individuals and families as well as the Paycheck Protection Program’s success in helping Kansas small businesses. I also talked about the need for widespread COVID-19 testing in Kansas and my efforts to get more PPE to Kansas and our frontline workers.

Watch my full remarks here starting at 23:00.

Calling for Widespread Testing During The University of Kansas Health System Media Update

On Friday morning, I joined The University of Kansas Health System (TUKH) for a news conference where I called for widespread COVID-19 testing. Widespread testing is one of the most important factors in how we can safely get our lives back to normal and businesses can start to reopen. I have spoken directly with President Trump and a number of my colleagues in the Senate regarding testing, and I will continue to do everything I can to get more people tested in Kansas and across the country as a member of the White House Economic Recovery Task Force. For our economy to recover, we need widespread testing so Americans can feel secure in their health and safely return to work.

I was joined by Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment Dr. Lee Norman, The University of Kansas Health System Medical Director for Infection Prevention and Control Dr. Dana Hawkinson and The University of Kansas Health System Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steve Stites for the media update. Dr. Stites agreed with my outlook on testing, saying:

“One of the things that has happened because of limited testing…is that we had to limit testing to patients admitted to the hospital as a person under investigation, a patient in a high-risk disease category, or health care workers with possible symptoms. As we get more testing availability, then we will be able to loosen those criteria and test a lot more frequently. That is really important for us to understand how the disease is acting in the public and what we need to do. I have lots of appreciation for Sen. Moran’s support and him working so hard to get more testing.”

Currently, Kansas has fewer tests than many other states. Dr. Stites is right when he noted the highest priority is someplace other than Kansas because of the death and hospitalization rates. This is also a testament to Kansans for their efforts to stay home, protect their neighbors and not rapidly spread this disease. However, getting more people tested in Kansas will continue to be a high priority for me. It is important for everyone to know that our health care and economy are linked in our effort to reopen the country.

Representing Kansas on the President’s Economic Recovery Taskforce

On Thursday, I was pleased to be named to President Trump’s Economic Recovery Task Force. For our economy to recover, we need widespread testing so Americans can feel secure in their health, businesses can reopen and folks can safely return to work. I look forward to representing Kansas and our common sense values as I work alongside the President and my congressional colleagues.

SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program Delivered $4.28 billion to Kansas Small Businesses

The COVID-19 outbreak forced many of our nation’s small businesses to close during the stay-at-home order, and as a result, make difficult decisions about the future of their businesses and employees. Over the past month, I’ve worked with Kansas’ small businesses and community banks to provide relief through the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) supported by the Phase III CARES Act.

On Friday, we learned that the SBA has approved 26,245 loans totaling $4.28 billion in federal relief dollars for Kansas businesses. Our local lenders have worked tirelessly to get over ten times a year’s worth of lending into the hands of small businesses across the country in a matter of weeks – despite the many challenges of navigating a new system. Unfortunately, resources for this job-saving program have run out and efforts to add additional funds to the program were blocked in the Senate. Kansas small businesses and their employees deserve relief, and Congress must quickly act to provide additional resources to the PPP so small businesses can keep their lights on, save jobs & keep employees on the payroll.

Read more here in the Wichita Business Journal.

Speaking with the President Regarding Kansas Meatpacking Safety

On Thursday evening, I spoke directly with President Trump regarding Kansas’ situation during COVID-19. We discussed the importance of our food supply chain and the assistance our farmers and ranchers need. We also specifically discussed the importance of making certain our meatpacking plants are able to keep operating by providing additional testing and PPE to their employees.

Relief Headed to Farmers and Ranchers

On Friday, President Trump and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced critical support for our farmers and ranchers. I worked with my colleagues to secure funding in the CARES Act to help address the financial damage COVID-19 has caused agricultural producers, including Kansas cattlemen.

COVID-19 has caused over $13 billion in economic damage to cattle producers alone. The low process for dairy, wheat, cotton, corn, soybeans and sorghum have made it increasingly difficult for Kansas producers to earn a living and pass family operations on to the next generation. Given the level of hardship facing farmers & ranchers, more assistance will be required. I will work to address the struggling ag economy and rural communities, including the need to keep food supply chains intact, meat processing plants open & ethanol facilities viable.

Kansas Airports Receive $53 Million from Phase III CARES Act

On Tuesday, I was pleased to announce Kansas airports received $53 million in grants from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) through the Phase III CARES Act. While reducing air travel around the country is important in mitigating the spread of COVID-19, the reduction has caused significant losses for our airports. Whether large or small, Kansas airports play an important role in the commerce and travel of our state. I advocated strongly for the inclusion of airport relief in the CARES Act and am glad to see critical resources being provided. While this can’t replace the usual business of these airports, these grants will work to alleviate the hardships currently felt within the industry.

To see if your local airport received resources, click here.

$1.25 Billion Headed to Support Kansas Stopping the Spread

The Treasury Department will begin distributing half of the CARES Act funding designated to help state, local and tribal governments with costs related to COVID-19. Kansas will receive $1.25 billion to help fund efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 in communities around the state. As counties with a population over 500,000, Johnson and Sedgwick Counties will also receive direct payments. This funding will provide timely assistance to support local governments as they continue to be vigilant in providing communities with resources, information and guidance during this pandemic. Building on funding that has already reached individuals, small businesses, employees, hospitals and others, this funding supports our local governments as we partner together to meet the challenges of COVID-19 as a nation.

Calling for Support for Food Banks During Unprecedented Need for Food Assistance

Last week, I urged Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to take action to support our food banks. As the economic toll on the American economy continues, more families are turning to their local food banks to feed themselves and their families, including in Kansas. Harvesters, the food bank network in the Kansas City-area, saw its largest order-processing day in its 40-year history at the end of March. Kansas Food Bank in Wichita is on pace to double the amount of food it sends in March and April to partner agencies in the 85 counties it serves. In response to this need, Congress has designated $850 million to the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) in an effort to provide food banks with the supplies they need as part of Phases II and III of the coronavirus relief packages. However, the Kansas food banks that I have been in contact with do not expect to receive food from this funding until late June or July.

Specifically, I called on Secretary Perdue to expedite purchases and allow maximum flexibility in distributing food through TEFAP during the COVID-19 outbreak. I also encouraged he use Section 32 funds for commodity purchases for distribution to food banks that will bridge the gap until TEFAP supplies can be distributed and to proactively make states aware of their ability to request permission to operate the Disaster Household Distribution (DHD) program to help speed assistance to communities. These actions will allow food banks to continue serving the people that are relying on them now. I will continue to work with Secretary Perdue and USDA to make sure that American families are fed throughout this crisis.

Announcing $30.7 Million in Support for Child Care and Development

This week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that Kansas is receiving $30.7 million in Child Care and Development Block Grants. These resources, provided by the CARES Act, will be utilized to support child care and education needs in our state during COVID-19. The funds will also assist Kansas’ health care workers, first responders and other essential workers who rely on child care services while working to fight COVID-19 and keep our society functioning. Each day essential workers are choosing to serve our communities and these resources will allow us to ensure their children are looked after while they care for Kansans.

Kansas Hospital Association Receives HHS Grant

The Kansas Hospital Association was awarded over $784,000 through a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant supported by the CARES Act. I have been in close contact with KHA President Tom Bell throughout this pandemic and have spoken to over 100 of their member health providers. I know they are working hard to care for Kansans and fight COVID-19 and these resources will help them continue to do so.

Seeking Answers from the FTC on Price Gouging Amid COVID-19

As the chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection, with jurisdiction over the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), I called on the FTC to clarify its enforcement authority to protect consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the FTC has taken steps against pandemic-related scams and fraud, the Commission has not taken action on price gouging or clarified its enforcement authority over price gouging. I pointed to the “powerful set of tools” the agency was given to protect consumers when it was created by Congress, in particular the FTC Act’s prohibition on “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce,” which empowers it to seek injunctions and further equitable relief to enforce the law. I will continue to fight to protect consumers from harmful and deceptive practices that take place during this already strenuous time.

Connecting with Kansans

This week, I joined Greg Akagi on WIBW News radio to discuss COVID-19 and the need for widespread COVID-19. I also joined Steve Scott with KKOW in Pittsburg, Joseph LaBelle with KIUL in Garden City, Gary Shorman with Eagle Radio in Hays and Dewey Terrill with KJCK in Junction City. I also spoke with RFD-TV to discuss my conference call with Kansas agricultural leaders and commodity groups about our food supply chain, including meatpacking plants, the need for mental health support in today’s stressful agricultural world and relief for the small businesses in many rural communities across our state.

Supporting the Dairy Industry During COVID-19

Last week, I wrote to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue calling on USDA to extend assistance to the dairy industry, which has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Large sectors of the U.S. economy have closed due to COVID-19, including long-existing markets for U.S. dairy producers. This standstill has left dairy farmers with an excess of products that were originally intended for the food service industry and no means to get their milk, butter, cheese and yogurt into the hands of consumers. The letter requests USDA to utilize agriculture assistance provisions in the Phase III CARES Act to provide stability to the dairy industry and prevent a collapse in dairy prices. I will continue to work with Secretary Perdue to make certain that dairy producers are assisted during this emergency.

Urging President Trump to Keep Pro-Life Protections for COVID-19 Research

Last week, I joined my colleagues in writing to President Trump to ask the administration to maintain pro-life protections during the search for treatments and cures for COVID-19. I was joined by 35 of my Senate colleagues in urging the president to reject recent requests for waivers to prohibitions on the use of fetal tissue for coronavirus research. There is no known instance of fetal tissue being used in the production of a vaccine, and most vaccines today use more efficient cell lines and production techniques. It is essential that in the pursuit of a vaccine, federal tax dollars should be devoted to the most promising and ethical scientific research.

Eligible Veterans to Automatically Receive Stimulus Checks

On Friday, the Treasury Department and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) clarified that eligible veterans who do not file income taxes will receive their stimulus checks, removing an unnecessary burden from our nation’s heroes. Earlier this month, as Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and I urged VA Under Secretary for Benefits, Dr. Paul Lawrence, to develop a plan between VA and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to provide veterans and VA beneficiaries their stimulus checks that would avoid veterans having to file additional burdensome paperwork. I am pleased this plan has been put in place and will continue to ensure that Washington provides veterans with their promised payments quickly, and without any additional bureaucratic hurdles.

Meeting with Kansas Ag Leaders to Discuss COVID-19 Related Issues

On Thursday, I spoke with agricultural leaders and commodity groups in Kansas to learn about the issues they are experiencing and further action I can take at the federal level to help. We discussed maintaining U.S. export markets, keeping food and meat processing plants open, working to ensure ethanol refineries have the resources they need, support for mental health services in rural areas and how the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program is providing relief to many farms, ranches and businesses in rural communities across the state. We also discussed my advocacy efforts to Secretary Sonny Perdue and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for livestock producers, particularly cattlemen and women that are navigating an extremely volatile market. In the Phase III CARES Act, I worked to secure an additional $23.5 billion total for USDA to support agricultural producers. I have been informed USDA is working to announce programs within the near future that will provide relief to Kansas farmers and ranchers.

Thank you to all the folks that joined me, including Kansas Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Beam and leaders from Kansas Livestock Association, Kansas Corn, Kansas Soybean Association, Kansas Wheat, Kansas Grain Sorghum Producers Association, Kansas Grain and Feed Association and Kansas Agribusiness Retailers Association. I will continue to work with these Kansas agriculture leaders and USDA to ensure that farmers and ranchers in our state are supported during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Meeting with Wichita’s Aviation Leaders

On Friday, I hosted the Wichita Aero Club for a discussion on the government’s response to COVID-19, and our efforts to support the aviation industry. It was great joining more than 70 aviation enthusiasts and small business leaders on the call while we discussed the challenges facing the aerospace community and our work to mitigate the difficulties these businesses face. By working together on the federal, state and local levels during this unprecedented time we can ensure Wichita remains the “Air Capital of the World.” Thank you to Aero Club President Dave Franson for the kind invitation and for moderating our informative conversation. 

Speaking with Finney County Leaders

I held a video conference meeting on Wednesday morning with Finney County and Garden City state, county and business leaders. I shared information on the ongoing federal efforts that can assist Southwest Kansas and local leaders provided an update on the issues they are facing related to COVID-19 including PPE shortages, the need for more testing, mental health care, food stability and new federal loans to small businesses. Through collaborations between the federal, state and county leaders, we are working together to meet the challenges brought about by COVID-19. Thank you to Matt Allen, the Garden City Manager, Chelsea Barnes, Finney County Salvation Army Director, Kevin Bascue, Finney County Sheriff, Michael Utz, Garden City Chief of Police, Troy Unruh, Garden City Mayor, Sen. John Doll, Rep. John Wheeler, Rep. Russ Jennings and many others for joining the conference meeting.

Read more about the meeting here in the Garden City Telegram.

Connecting with Cloud County

On Saturday morning, I held a video conference with Cloud County area leaders. I was pleased to hear of their efforts to adapt to these unprecedented circumstances we find ourselves in. Resources to Cloud County Health Center, Blosser Airport and Cloud County Community College as well as Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) dollars are being dispersed into the community. Thank you to city, county, education, health and banking leaders that joined the call including Rep. Susan Concannon and Sen. Elaine Bowers for providing information regarding the State of Kansas’ efforts.

Read more about our conversation here in the Concordia Blade-Empire.

Additional Phone Conversations on COVID-19

FAA Administrator: On Friday, I had the opportunity to speak with Administrator Stephen Dickson who leads the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). During the call, we discussed the challenges posed to the industry by COVID-19 and their continued efforts on recertification of the Boeing 737 MAX. Additionally, I was able to thank him for the agency’s quick distribution of aid allocations to our Kansas airports. Over $53 million in funding was distributed to over 80 Kansas airports in order to mitigate the reduction in air travel our airports across the country are encountering amid this pandemic. I look forward to continuing to work with him closely on issues the aviation industry faces.

VA Secretary Wilkie: This week I continued my engagement with VA Secretary Robert Wilkie and his new acting Deputy Secretary Pamela Powers as VA works to address the COVID-19 pandemic. I reiterated to them my focus on providing health care options for veterans in the communities where they live and working to address mental health and veteran suicide, especially during the COVID-19 response. Another of my top priorities has been getting our manufacturing and supply systems working to support our frontline health care workers, including the employees at VA. I have asked VA to review Kansas manufacturers who may be suitable suppliers of protective equipment or other needed supplies in order to maximize capacity and get the right equipment to those who need it in Kansas and across the country.

It was also encouraging to hear from Secretary Wilkie that VA has been able to reduce the amount of time it takes to onboard new health care professionals hired in the Veterans Health Administration. VA has rapidly hired over 5,700 new employees and in some cases, has reduced the onboarding time to just three days. Putting the right people in place as quickly as possible to respond to the pandemic is an urgent priority, and I encourage VA to fully explore how hiring practices and onboarding processes can be reformed to reduce vacancies and improve VA’s ability to hire a high-quality workforce on a permanent basis. Standardizing a faster hiring practice would be major step in VA’s modernization journey. I will continue to work with VA on these efforts to make certain they have the tools and resources they need to provide the best care and services for our nation’s veterans.

Kansas Leaders: I continue to contact leaders from across the state each week regarding the situation we are facing, from health care facilities CEOs to Chamber of Commerce presidents to local business owners. As the COVID-19 situation continually evolves, I am committed to hearing what Kansans are experiencing first hand. Thank you to Salina Airport Authority Executive Director Timothy Rogers, Manhattan Regional Airport Director Jesse Romo, Metropolitan Topeka Airport Authority President Eric Johnson, City Manager of Garden City Matt Allen, Wichita Airport Authority Director Victor White, Hays City Manger Toby Dougherty, Rooks County Commission Chairman John Ruder, State Bank Commissioner David Herndon, City Manager of Dodge City Cherise Tieben, Kansas Director of Aviation Bob Brock, Wichita Aero Club President Dave Franson, Dechant & Taylor’s Tom Dechant, Kansas State University’s Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh, Kansas Bankers Association President Doug Wareham, Sinochips Diagnostics Dr. Andy Godwin and Kansas Hospital Association President Tom Bell and Executive Vice President Chad Austin.

Kansas Health Care Hero

I want to take a moment to recognize Dr. Steve Short, a pulmonologist in Manhattan and originally from Hoxie. Dr. Short is a member of the same church Robba and I attend, and he felt called to volunteer his medical services in New York City through a professional medical association he belongs to, the American College of Chest Physicians. I've spoken to him several times on the phone and he told me it was something that he felt called to do, in spite of the personal risk and financial hardships. I commend Dr. Short for his bravery and sacrifice and pray for his safety, along with all of our health care workers on the front lines. 

Read more about Dr. Short here in WIBW.

COVID Care Force: A Call for Health Care Professional Volunteers

Last week, I spoke with Dr. Gary Morsch, a Kansas City native and the the founder of Heart to Heart International and Docs Who Care. Dr. Morsch was about to take on the night shift for the next three nights in an emergency room of a Trauma-1 hospital in Queens. He shared with me that they have 80 to 90 ambulances that arrive each day and night with patients who have COVID-19, which reminded him of his experience on combat tours as a Battalion Surgeon. He noted that the entire hospital is essentially an ICU.

When the news broke about an outbreak of COVID-19, Dr. Morsch founded the “COVID Care Force” to mobilize hundreds of health care professionals to fight back against COVID-19. Dr. Morsch told me that now is the time for “All-hands-on-deck” and that we must “raise up a great force of volunteer healthcare professionals” to deploy to hotspots or areas of critical need because of healthcare staffing shortages. The mission of this force will be to serve wherever the need is greatest, whether that is in urban areas, community hospitals, or right here in the Midwest.

Dr. Morsch asked me if I would share his mission and do everything I could to help recruit health care professionals who are willing to serve during this pandemic. Please click here to receive more information on volunteer opportunities.

Thank you to Dr. Morsch and all of the healthcare professionals and volunteers who are already putting their own lives and health at risk to protect and help others.

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