Kansas Common Sense
Jun 08 2020
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Providing Further Flexibility for Small Businesses Using the Paycheck Protection Program
On Friday, the U.S. jobs report indicated that the unemployment rate dropped to 13.3 percent - below the expected 20 percent - and 2.5 million jobs were added in May. Many Kansans and Americans remain out of work, but today’s jobs report is a positive step forward in our economic recovery. The COVID-19 pandemic caused businesses to make difficult decisions to protect those who are most vulnerable to this virus, and unfortunately, thousands of Kansas businesses closed their doors with little certainty on when they could reopen. Through the Paycheck Protection Program, 50,000 businesses in Kansas were able to receive loans to endure this pandemic and save thousands of jobs.
This week, the Senate passed and the President signed into law the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act, which will allow businesses more flexibility on how and when they can use their loans. I will work with my colleagues and the administration to continue to make certain the Paycheck Protection Program is benefiting small businesses and helping keep more employees on the payroll as we safely reopen our economy.
Questioning Secretary Wilkie Regarding Veterans Care During COVID-19
On Wednesday, I welcomed VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to discuss the VA’s budget and utilization of emergency funding from the CARES Act in response to COVID-19. During the hearing, the Secretary laid out the administration’s priorities for improving and maintaining a high level of service and care for veterans during and beyond the current health emergency. I was pleased to see the VA requested an increase for Medical Community Care and mental health and suicide prevention services.
In March, the VA rolled out the Community Care Network in Kansas which will better connect veterans with doctors, therapists, surgeons and a network of caregivers in their own communities. During the hearing, I made it clear to Secretary Wilkie and the VA leadership accompanying him that I believe whether the care is provided in the community or provided internal to the VA, both are a responsibility of the VA. Through my role as chairman, I will remain vigilant to ensure that the VA does not waiver from its mission to provide veterans with improved access to care and service.
I was also happy to secure a commitment from the Secretary for his assistance with finalizing the John Scott Hannon Mental Health Care Improvement Act. The bill, which provides targeted resources towards research, grants for community partners, and improved coordination between the Department of Defense and the VA to address the rates of veterans who die by suicide, was unanimously reported out of the committee in January. I will continue to work with the Secretary and my colleagues in the Senate to pass this bill into law.
Examining COVID-19 Lending Authorities
On Tuesday, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing on the implementation of Title IV of the CARES Act, which provided a large capital injection to support the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending facilities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These unique lending authorities have played a critical role in ensuring that employees are able to keep their jobs and that companies are able to stay in business.
During the hearing, we heard from witnesses on the impact that these lending facilities have had on the economy to date and how Congress can respond to the ongoing needs of our economy. These ongoing priorities include the launch of the Federal Reserve’s Main Street Lending Facility and Municipal Liquidity Facility for state and local governments. While the work to get these facilities up and running has already played a crucial role in our economic recovery, we must ensure they are structured in a way that supports ease of use for the businesses, employees, and state and local governments depending on them.
Working to Protect Hong Kong’s Autonomy
On Thursday, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing focused on options to protect Hong Kong’s autonomy from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). A recently proposed Chinese national security law will gravely undermine the CCP’s agreement to honor Hong Kong’s liberties until 2047. With Secretary of State Mike Pompeo determining Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from Beijing’s control, Congress is considering legislation that would impose sanctions on those responsible for the loss of Hong Kong’s freedoms. The experts who testified offered insight on what needs to be done to deter China from implementing drastic measures against Hong Kong, and they also warned of the potential response from China. The hearing offered important perspective as the Senate prepares to act in defense of human rights in Hong Kong.
Requesting an Evaluation of the Native American Direct Loan Program
This week, I urged the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to request an evaluation of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ Native American Direct Loan (NADL) program, along with several of my Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (SVAC) colleagues. This program allows eligible Native American veterans to finance the construction, purchase, or improvement of a home on Federal trust land. Oversight is a critical Congressional function to ensure laws passed by Congress are implemented as intended, and our request for a GAO evaluation will aid my committee’s efforts in identifying areas of weakness within the NADL program. Additionally, this evaluation will guide policy considerations to improve the program with the principal intent to make certain Native American veterans receive the benefits they’ve sacrificed for and are entitled to.
Meeting Fort Leavenworth Hero Master Sergeant David Royer
On Friday, I met with Lieutenant General Jim Rainey and the leadership team of the Army’s Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth. Lieutenant General Rainey and his team described some of the initiatives they are championing to modernize the Army‘s Professional Military Education, and how those efforts and the Fort Leavenworth community were impacted by COVID-19. I also had the privilege to meet with two exceptional soldiers on my visit. One was Army Major Sarah Gerstein, recipient of the General George C. Marshall Award as the top graduate of this year’s Command and General Staff Officer College. The other was Army Master Sergeant David Royer (pictured below), whose heroic actions saved countless lives a week ago when he stopped an active shooter on the Centennial Bridge.
Speaking with the National Cotton Council
On Saturday, I joined a call with members of the National Cotton Council to discuss challenges facing the cotton industry. The COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted agricultural supply chains and depressed commodity prices for producers, including for Kansas cotton farmers, merchandisers and the textile industry. We discussed the assistance provided to farmers and ranchers through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), and the need for additional funding for agriculture in future COVID-19 response legislation. We also discussed cotton trade issues, including with India and China. It is important for our country to continue to build export markets for farmers and ranchers, and make certain foreign countries are abiding by fair trade rules. Acres of cotton in Kansas continue to increase, I look forward to working to support the cotton industry.
Announcing Kansas Law Enforcement Grants
This week, I was pleased to announce that Kansas will receive $4 million in grants from the Department of Justice’s COPS Hiring Program (CHP). The COPS Hiring Program will assist law enforcement agencies in the hiring of law enforcement officers in an effort to increase their community policing capacity to combat issues such as the opioid epidemic and violent crime. Furthermore, CHP provides law enforcement departments the flexibility to identify focus areas that will benefit their towns. Every community is unique and faces their own challenges. These grants will help Kansas communities hire additional officers to make certain the departments are properly staffed to meet the needs of their communities. As Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science I will continue working to ensure Kansas law enforcement have the resources they need.
Speaking with KU Chancellor Doug Girod
On Tuesday, I met with the University of Kansas Chancellor Doug Girod and Associate Vice Chancellor for Federal Relations Jack Cline. We discussed the CARES Act funding that helped to support the university and its students, the impact of COVID-19 on their operations and students and what universities need moving forward to continue providing a quality education..
Distributing Meals at Hocker Grove Middle School
Before heading to Washington, D.C. this week, I joined Hocker Grove Middle School to help distribute meals as part of the school lunch program. Hocker Grove is one of four sites within the Shawnee Mission school district distributing meals while schools are closed, continuing an important program to make certain our children’s nutritional needs are met. This particular distribution site will hand out approximately 600 meals, and in total, the school district has distributed 159,000 meals this year. Thank you to USD 512 Superintendent Dr. Michael Fulton and Deputy Superintendent Rick Atha for the invitation and for joining me.
Discussing COVID-19 Testing with MAWD Pathology Group
On Friday, I toured the new MAWD Lab in Lenexa which is dedicated solely to COVID-19 testing. At this facility, they are able to provide regional hospitals with test results in 24 hours or less. This quick turnaround is critical to preserve PPE supplies and help prevent unnecessary complications surrounding regularly scheduled surgeries. During the tour, we discussed the availability of testing and the challenges labs face when providing quick results, as well as the relationship between testing and opening our economy. Thank you to President Dr. Sam Caughron for hosting and Mayor Mike Boehm for joining us.
Touring Heart to Heart International's New Facilities
On Friday, I also visited the new headquarters in Lenexa for Heart to Heart International, a humanitarian organization founded in Kansas in the early 1990s that focuses on expanding access to health care and crisis relief worldwide. To date, they have provided humanitarian service in more than 130 countries, while also participating in relief domestically for many natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes. They have now turned their attention to providing assistance during the COVID-19 by providing medical supplies to areas in need.
Several weeks ago, I participated in a special virtual announcement regarding a grant from the CDC’s National Foundation that is allowing Heart to Heart to provide COVID-19 testing to asymptomatic essential workers in underserved areas of Wyandotte and the greater Kansas City area. It was great to tour their new space, speak with their volunteers and view a special video message from founder Gary Morsch who is currently volunteering in Mexico with his COVID Care Force initiative. A special thank you to CEO Kim Carrol for providing the tour.
Meeting with Leavenworth Area Leaders
On Tuesday, I continued engaging with Kansans through video conferencing, and was pleased to host a meeting with Leavenworth area leaders to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 and the area’s efforts to reopen. We discussed the success several small businesses in the community experienced through the Paycheck Protection Program and ideas for priorities in the potential phase four package to continue federal relief efforts. I will continue to work with leaders across Kansas to make certain that our communities are supported throughout the COVID-19 recovery. Thank you to Fort Leavenworth’s Lieutenant General Jim Rainey and Kansas Senator Kevin Braun for joining me on the call.
Honoring the Greatest Generation on D-Day
On June 6, 1944 thousands of brave men and women stormed the beaches of Normandy under the command of Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower during the greatest military operation in history. Now, 76 years later we honor all those who fought to end World War II that day. This anniversary serves as a reminder of the cost of our freedom and our duty to thank the Greatest Generation for the sacrifices they made in defense of democracy.
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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