Kansas Common Sense
May 26 2020
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.
Recognizing Our Heroes on Memorial Day
On Memorial Day, as we should every day, we take time as a nation to pause and remember the brave Americans who gave their lives in defense of our country, and we honor the sacrifice they made to keep us free. It presents us a special time to formally show our gratitude to the men and women bravely serving our country, while teaching another generation to understand and respect the service of our nation.
Watch my Memorial Day video message here.
I was grateful for the opportunity to start Memorial Day weekend in Wakefield on Friday by placing flags on grave sites at Highland Cemetery. I hope each of us were able to find ways to pay tribute to the tremendous sacrifice the brave men and women who serve our country have made to protect our freedoms on Memorial Day. Thank you to Dennis and Linda Olson and VFW Post #7774 for allowing me to join you at Highland Cemetery.
On Memorial Day morning, I visited the World War II and Vietnam Veterans Memorials on the campus of Kansas State University, both of which honor the lives and service of the many students and faculty that fought in the wars. K-State has a strong relationship with the military, given Fort Riley’s proximity, and memorials like these are important to serve as reminders of brave men and women who gave their all to protect us.
I also participated in a Virtual Memorial Day Ceremony at the Fort Riley Post Cemetery. Our freedom has been protected by the sacrifice and service of generations of veterans, and I was honored to join Fort Riley leaders in order to pay tribute to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. You can view the ceremony here or below.
Joining Kansas West Point Cadets for Their Commissioning Ceremony
On Wednesday, I was grateful for the opportunity to congratulate a group of West Point Cadets from Kansas who will soon graduate from the United States Military Academy and commission as Second Lieutenants in the U.S. Army. I am incredibly proud of these young men and women and enjoyed listening to them share about their experiences at West Point.
As a Member of the USMA’s Board of Visitors, I regularly engage with students and Army leaders to make certain the training and education our cadets receive at West Point prepares them to become leaders in the world’s greatest fighting force. We discussed their West Point experience, their goals and anticipations as they enter the force, and how West Point prepared them to lead soldiers in the defense of our nation. I enjoyed speaking with them, and I have no doubts that they will lead our troops honorably.
On Saturday, I joined them in the Kansas State Capitol for their commissioning ceremony. The cadets became the newest Second Lieutenants in the world’s greatest fighting force. Normally, they would be commissioned with their classmates at the United States Military Academy, but current events forced these cadets to return home and commission virtually. I worked with Major General David Weishaar and the Kansas National Guard to make certain these new officers had a memorable commissioning ceremony that is worthy of their service, while also abiding by social distancing requirements. I am proud of these five lieutenants and appreciate their service as we observe Memorial Day.
Coronavirus Update: Supporting Small Meatpackers
As we mark the beginning of summer, 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. Please also remember to social distance by staying six feet apart from people outside of your home.
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, which will allow us to begin to look to the future and our country's economic recovery.
Introducing Legislation to Support Small Meatpacking Facilities
On Thursday, I introduced the Small Packer Overtime and Holiday Fee Relief COVID-19 Act, legislation that would support small meatpacking plants that are operating longer hours during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep our food supply chain moving. According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), cattle slaughter in May has decreased by approximately 31 percent compared to last year. This decrease is largely due to meatpacking plants being temporarily closed because of outbreaks of COVID-19 or plants slowing processing operations to take precautions to stop the spread of the virus.
The USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) charges meatpacking plants a fee for overtime and holiday hours worked by food inspectors who are required to be present when the plants are operational. This legislation would reduce these fees that discourage smaller packing plants from extending operating hours. During this pandemic, it is necessary we remove cost-prohibitive barriers so our packers can keep working, ranchers can harvest their livestock and Americans can have access to quality food.
More Testing, More Jobs to Come from Thermo Fisher Announcement
At the beginning of last week, Thermo Fisher Scientific, a Lenexa manufacturer, announced a new federal contract “to provide highly specialized viral transport media (VTM) for COVID-19 sample collection.” The public-private partnership between Thermo Fisher and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will rapidly expand testing capability in the U.S. and create 300 new full-time jobs in the Lenexa-area.
Widespread testing is a necessary component for safely opening the American economy and returning our lives to normal. I applaud Thermo Fisher for committing to produce additional test tubes and am proud that Kansas manufacturing can play an important role in addressing our nation’s testing shortage. Kansans never fail to step up in our country’s time of need and this is no different. Thermo Fisher’s ability to manufacture test tubes and significantly increase production in the next couple of weeks is an important step in making certain Americans can feel secure in their health and safely return to work.
Addressing Questions from Kansans During Kansas Delegation Town Hall
On Thursday evening, all members of the Kansas Congressional Delegation joined a virtual Kansas Town Hall hosted by Fox 4 News in Kansas City to discuss the federal response to COVID-19. I was live from KCI, having just landed from Washington, D.C., and appreciated the opportunity to answer important questions from Kansans on topics such as widespread testing, reopening our economy and the potential for an additional relief package. Thank you to John Holt of Fox 4 News for moderating our discussion. Watch by clicking here or below.
Protecting Seniors from Scams During COVID-19
On Thursday, I introduced the Protecting Seniors from Emergency Scams Act, which will help seniors and their caregivers be informed about financial scams stemming from the current COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, this legislation would direct the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to update its web portal with information on COVID-related scams targeting seniors to inform outreach to law enforcement and adult protective service agencies. The bill would also require the FTC to work with media outlets and law enforcement agencies to distribute this information to seniors and their caregivers for increased awareness of these threats.
Every year scam artists prey on senior citizens resulting in billions of dollars of financial losses, and now, criminal scammers are using the fear and uncertainty during this time to take advantage of our most vulnerable populations. As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection, I remain committed to ensuring the FTC is fulfilling its responsibility to protect seniors from all scams.
Joining The University of Kansas Health System Media Update
On Friday morning, I joined The University of Kansas Health System (TUKH) for a media update regarding COVID-19. I was joined by The University of Kansas Health System’s Medical Director for Infection Prevention and Control Dr. Dana Hawkinson, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steve Stites and Dr. Allen Greiner associated with the County Health Department of Wyandotte.
We discussed proper safety precautions in relation to COVID-19 for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. I was able to highlight several ways Kansans could pay tribute to our veterans and servicemembers this year, even if they are not able to visit their local cemetery. To watch the full media update, please click here.
Questioning Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Powell
On Tuesday, the Senate Banking Committee held its Quarterly CARES Act Report to Congress. I questioned Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin and Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Jerome Powell on the nearly $3 trillion that Congress has appropriated to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and address the unique economic situation we face. During this outbreak, I have worked to ensure that Kansas’ small businesses are supported during this global health crisis. To that end, I questioned the Treasury Secretary and Federal Reserve Chairman on the implementation and success of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Treasury lending facilities enacted to provide much needed capital to businesses and their employees. I will continue to work with this administration to make certain our nation is able to recover economically from the COVID-19 outbreak.
After the Banking Committee hearing, I joined CNBC’s Closing Bell to discuss how Congress must focus on delivering direct and targeted relief that addresses COVID-19 and its consequences, and not a political wish list of priorities unrelated to this pandemic. Watch the full conversation here or below.
USDA Announces Agricultural Relief Details
Through no fault of their own, our farmers and ranchers are facing extreme financial harm during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I am pleased the administration is increasing the amount of support farmers and ranchers can receive during this pandemic. While we negotiated the CARES Act, I worked with my colleagues to make certain it would provide critical aid for our producers, including securing $23.5 billion to assist farmers and ranchers, including funding specifically for livestock producers.
Using the money from the CARES Act and funding from the Commodity Credit Corporation, USDA has announced the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) to provide $16 billion in direct assistance to producers and make $3 billion worth of commodity purchases to be donated to food banks. Farmers and ranchers may begin signing up for the program on May 26th at the county Farm Service Agency (FSA) office.
Farmers and ranchers have faced multiple years of low prices and decreased farm revenue, and market disruptions due to COVID-19 have caused additional financial harm to producers. While this assistance will help farmers and ranchers weather the economic storm caused by COVID-19, more support will be needed. I am continuing to work with my Senate colleagues on efforts to support agricultural producers during these challenging economic times.
Nursing Homes to Receive $63 Million from HHS
On Friday, I was pleased to announce Kansas will receive $63 million from HHS for nursing homes impacted by COVID-19. Caring for our seniors is particularly challenging during this pandemic, and to help protect our loved ones, we rely heavily on the services of nursing homes across the state. This funding will help provide the tools and resources needed to prevent the virus from spreading into nursing homes that haven’t been infected and help provide life-saving resources to the facilities where they continue to battle the spread of the virus.
Urging Clear Standards for Ethanol Producers Work to Produce Hand Sanitizer
I led the Kansas congressional delegation in urging Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn to provide clear standards for Kansas ethanol producers working to provide ethanol for manufacturing hand sanitizer during COVID-19. Due to increased demand, our country is facing an imminent shortage of alcohol-based hand sanitizer, an important tool to keep people safe and slow the spread of this virus. FDA has taken a series of actions to prevent a potential shortage, but the most recent standards are preventing manufacturers capable of producing ethanol for hand sanitizer from doing so. I am urging the FDA to set standards that enable ethanol producers to help meet the demand for alcohol to produce hand sanitizer while still ensuring safety for consumers. I look forward to working with Commissioner Hahn to ensure ethanol facilities in Kansas are able to provide an important ingredient for hand sanitizer as we fight to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Cosponsoring Legislation to Increase American PPE Procurement
This week, I joined my colleagues in the Senate to cosponsor bipartisan legislation that would require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to increase the amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) it procures from American companies. The Homeland Procurement Reform Act would ensure that the domestic supply chain for PPE is capable of supplying the critical items that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other federal agencies need during a national emergency.
As a country, we cannot continue to be reliant on foreign countries, such as China, for critical resources like PPE that American lives depend on. DHS agents rely heavily on their equipment to carry out their duties, and reliance on foreign-made products could place them in harm’s way or jeopardize the mission. This legislation would allow DHS access to the best, innovative personal protective gear and equipment that the American supply chain has to offer. Congress must continue to prioritize legislation that reduces our country’s reliance on foreign supply chains for critical national security components. I will continue to advocate for and introduce legislation that reduces our country’s reliance on foreign supply chains for critical national security components.
Announcing CDC Resources to KDHE
On Tuesday, I announced the Kansas Department of Health and Environment will receive $81 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop, administer, process, and analyze COVID-19 tests and perform contact tracing. This critical funding was distributed directly from the CDC resources provided by the Phase 3.5 Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act and is important to enhancing our state’s testing capabilities as Kansas begins to reopen. Widespread testing is one of the most important factors in how we can safely return our lives to normal, and I am pleased this funding will help Kansas increase our efforts in this area.
Meeting with Major General Weishaar
On Saturday, I spoke with Major General David Weishaar prior to the West Point Commissioning Ceremony that we organized together. Gen. Weishaar is the Adjutant General of Kansas, and we discussed the efforts of the Kansas National Guard to keep Kansans safe during COVID-19. I hosted Gen. Weishaar in Washington, D.C. in March prior to the spread of this pandemic, so I appreciated the opportunity to catch up with him this week and discuss the role of the National Guard in our statewide relief efforts. I am appreciative of his leadership throughout this pandemic.
Delivering Good News to Heart to Heart International
On Tuesday, I joined Heart to Heart International, a nonprofit organization based out of Lenexa, for a virtual special announcement to share news that they received almost $600,000 from the National Foundation for the Centers for Disease Control to provide COVID-19 testing to asymptomatic essential workers in underserved areas of Wyandotte and the greater Kansas City area. I have long supported the CDC and am pleased these resources will allow Heart to Heart to test around 5,000 people working on the frontlines.
Joining the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce
On Tuesday, I joined the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce for an online discussion on the government’s response to COVID-19 in regards to small businesses. During the meeting we discussed the success area businesses have seen with the Paycheck Protection Program, expectations for another federal relief package, how our current level of federal spending cannot be sustained and reopening our economy. I enjoyed speaking with members of the chamber and the opportunity to answer their questions. Thank you to President Ann Smith-Tate for the kind invitation.
Connecting with Emporia
On Friday, I hosted an online discussion with Emporia leaders on the government’s response to COVID-19 and steps they are taking to protect the health of folks in their community while moving to reopen businesses. They shared with me issues to take back to Congress to fix and provided new ways the government can continue to assist during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I appreciated hearing from everyone who joined the call including Kansas State Representatives Mark Schrieber and Eric L. Smith, Mayor of Emporia Danny Giefer, City Manager of Emporia Mark McArney, Superintendent of USD 253 and Chamber of Commerce Board Chair Kevin Chase, local law enforcement, healthcare professionals, Emporia business owners and many others.
Meeting with Seward County Community Leaders
I met with Seward County community leaders on Saturday to discuss the challenges they are facing during COVID-19. We discussed the process they are using to report the number of people who have recovered from the virus. It was uplifting to hear that they have more recovered folks now than current positive cases. We were also joined by Steve Thompson from National Beef who talked about the collaboration they have had with the county health officials and the CDC to make certain the plant is operating in a safe fashion. Other topics that we discussed included the Paycheck Protection Program, the status of businesses in Seward County, access to testing, how USD 480 schools finished the school year and legislation that the state legislature passed this week.
Thank you to everyone who joined the call including Seward County Administrator April Warden, County Commission Chair Nathan McCaffrey, Commission Vice-Chair Ada Linenbroker, Economic Development Director Eli Svaty, Emergency Management Director Greg Standard, City Manager Calvin Burke, Mayor Connie Siegrist, USD 480 Superintendent Renae Hickert, Chamber Executive Director Rozelle Webb, former State Representative Carl Holmes, State Representative Shannon Francis, State Senator Bud Estes and others.
City Economic Development Director Cindy Wallace said it best on the call, “We’re Kansans. We’re Tough. We will weather this storm.”
Kansas Health Care Hero
This week, I want to recognize Brenda Kotar of Prairie Village for volunteering at the Jacobi Medical Center in Bronx, New York. Brenda not only worked for three weeks as a nurse on the frontlines, caring directly for patients with COVID-19, but also managed nursing courses she teaches online.
Read more about this week’s Health Care Hero, Brenda, here in the Kansas City Star.
Confirming Nominees to the Amtrak Board of Directors
Last week during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, I expressed my support to move forward three nominees to the Amtrak Board of Directors: Joseph Ryan Gruters, Leon Westmoreland and Rick Dearborn. I had originally placed holds on the three nominations, until I was secure in Amtrak’s commitment to long-distance passenger rail which is important to Kansas. Upon Amtrak’s follow-through on a financial commitment made to Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado on a TIGER IX grant, and multiple conversations with Amtrak’s former CEO and the three current nominees, I have gained assurance of their commitment to long-distance passenger routes and the steps they would take, if confirmed, to ensure the routes’ preservation.
Long-distance passenger service routes like the Southwest Chief are essential for connecting rural Kansas communities to major cities and economic opportunities. I look forward to continuing to work with the nominees, Amtrak, and my fellow colleagues to ensure these routes have a future of serving our constituents.
Bringing Defense Work to Wichita
The United States Army has, once again, chosen Wichita State University as a partner to usher aviation maintenance and sustainment into a new era. This week, the Army delivered a UH-60L Blackhawk to the National Institute of Aviation Research (NIAR) at WSU to create a virtual model of the helicopter. This “digital twin” will help the Army reduce maintenance challenges across the Blackhawk fleet to increase readiness. Army acquisition professionals are referring to NIAR’s research as a “game changer” for the future of sustainment and logistics. I am proud that Kansans are once again leading the way when it comes to providing innovative solutions to improve our nation’s security.
Read more about NIAR’s work to digitally engineer the UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter by clicking here.
Big Red One’s Lieutenant General Kolasheski Promoted
This week, the Senate unanimously confirmed Major General John Kolasheski to the rank of Lieutenant General. Lieutenant General Kolasheski has served as the Commanding General of the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley since June 2018, and I was pleased to join my colleagues in confirming his rank promotion in the US Army.
Robba and I have enjoyed getting acquainted with General Kolasheski and his wife Buffy and hold them both in highest regard for their character and service to our country. I congratulate General Kolasheski on this momentous occasion, and I wish him and his family the best of luck as they transition later this summer to Fort Knox, Kentucky to command Fifth Corps, the Army’s newest Corps Headquarters. Last week, I spoke with the incoming Big Red One commanding general, Brigadier General D.A. Sims, and know that his leadership and experience will continue to drive this historic unit toward greatness.
Kansan Tabatha Rosproy Selected as 2020 National Teacher of the Year
Congratulations to the 2020 National Teacher of the Year, Tabatha Rosproy of Winfield! I was able to congratulate Tabatha over the phone on Thursday. In February, I met with her while she was in Washington, D.C. to discuss the innovative approach to social-emotional learning she takes for her pre-school students by housing her classroom in a senior living center. Her passion for teaching and her students was clear to me then, and I am pleased to see her recognized at the national level for her dedication and willingness to push traditional educational frameworks. Congratulations again, Tabatha, on this well-deserved award. Read more here in CBS This Morning.
Congratulations Class of 2020
Congratulations to the Class of 2020 on your graduation! While these are not normal circumstances to celebrate your graduation, I recognize your accomplishments and how important they are.
Every generation throughout our country’s history has gone through difficult times, but they have all found a way to come together – just like our country is doing now – to make sure the world gets a little bit better. I have no doubt you will lead a wonderful life while doing the same. Again, congratulations to the class of 2020!
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.
Newsletter Sign-up Form
Note: Fields marked with an * are required.