Kansas Common Sense
Apr 13 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.
I hope you and your family celebrated a meaningful and happy Easter. Robba and I participated in an online service from Manhattan’s First Presbyterian Church, which she played the piano for yesterday. During these challenging times in Kansas and across our country, I was thankful for the moments of reflection this day of worship and prayer allowed.
Coronavirus Update: Relief is Reaching Kansas
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 broader 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.
Announcing $325 Million to Kansas Hospitals and Health Care Providers
On Friday morning, I joined The University of Kansas Health System (TUKH) for a news conference where I announced $325 million in federal relief funding would be distributed to Kansas hospitals and health care providers. The funding, which will support hospitals fighting COVID-19 on the frontlines, is part of the $100 billion provider relief fund established in the Phase III Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and is being administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). As hospitals are seeing significant revenue losses and others see their costs go up because of COVID-19, these new resources will be a necessary benefit not just to our hospitals, but to the communities and patients they serve. In the fight against COVID-19, these new resources will put our health care providers in a better position to keep us healthy and meet the needs of Kansans.
During the news conference, I was also able to answer questions with TUKH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steve Stites and Medical Director for Infection Prevention and Control Dr. Dana Hawkinson from reporters and Kansans. In case you missed it, find the link to watch here.
What Hospital CEOS Are Saying About the Federal Relief Funding
“We are grateful for this critical emergency relief coming to hospitals,” AdventHealth Mid-America Region CEO Sam Huenergardt said. “As the largest provider of health care in Johnson County, we are on the front lines of this pandemic treating COVID-19 patients and thankful Congress prioritized funding for those providing care. From PPE to food service to testing, these resources will directly help us care for and stop the spread of the virus to keep more people safe.”
“Our healthcare heroes are working hard to either care for or prepare to care for COVID-19 patients, and it is vitally important that we not low census, lay-off, furlough or otherwise interrupt their compensation,” said Brian A. Williams, President and CEO, Labette Health. “We received $1,650,000 in HHS Stimulus funding this morning, and we pledge to use it for our healthcare heroes. Thank you to our Congressional leaders and staffs who are working tirelessly on behalf of our entire country.”
HHS Grants Awarded to Health Centers Across Kansas
Community health centers are on the frontlines of our fight against COVID-19 and remain critical to our ability to stop the spread of this virus. I was pleased to announce $15 million in grants from HHS to support 18 community health centers across Kansas and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE). The grants, made available through the resources provided in the CARES Act, will be used to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic through detection, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the virus. I have been urging the administration to move quickly to make relief provided in Phase III available to our state, and these resources will provide timely support to Kansas health centers.
Direct Relief Payment Began on Friday
This past week the Treasury started making Economic Impact Payments to households across the country and will continue to distribute these funds in the coming days. Nearly 80 million people will receive their direct payment by Wednesday. The Treasury will give some funds through direct deposits and others through the mail. Tax filers with an income up to $75,000 for individuals and up to $150,000 for married couples filing joint returns will receive the full payment of $1,200 each and $500 for each qualifying child. For filers with incomes above those amounts, the payment amount is reduced by $5 for each $100 above the $75,000/$150,000 thresholds. Individuals on social security also qualify for the direct payment.
Kansas Public Universities to Receive Federal Resources
Providing public universities flexibility to supply relief to students across the country is much-welcomed news as many students’ lives and jobs have been disrupted due to COVID-19. Kansas’ public universities will be receiving over $49 million from the Higher Education Relief Fund, which was provided resources through the Phase III CARES Act. These funds can be used for expenses like course materials and technology, which are of increased importance as universities transition to online classes, as well as everyday expenses like food, housing, health care and childcare.
Seeking Answers from the FDA Regarding PPE Manufacturing
On Wednesday, I wrote to Dr. Stephen Hahn, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), requesting answers regarding the steps and resources necessary for American manufacturers to begin producing personal protection equipment (PPE) such as masks, medical gowns and gloves. The global shortage of PPE threatens to undermine our ability to combat COVID-19, and puts at risk the ability of health care workers, first responders, and all individuals working on the front lines of this battle to protect themselves from contracting the virus.
In Kansas, our state inventory of PPE is dangerously low and the latest shipment received from the strategic national stockpile falls well short of our state’s needs in the weeks ahead. I have been encouraged, however, by the many manufacturers who have contacted my office wanting to help contribute to the production of needed health care equipment. It is time the federal government leverage the resources and innovation of our manufacturing base while working to remove any unnecessary barriers that could slow production.
I recognize the many challenges federal agencies such as the FDA are facing in their efforts to protect Americans from the effects of COVID-19 and am grateful for Dr. Hahn’s leadership. I look forward to his response and to working together with the FDA to expedite new avenues for producing the materials and equipment needed to keep us healthy and safe.
Read more here in the Kansas City Star.
Making Certain Kansans Have Access to the Paycheck Protection Program
Over the past two weeks, I have been working with Kansas’ banks and small businesses to ensure that they are able to access to the Small Business Administration (SBA)’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The CARES Act authorizes $350 billion to the SBA to lend through our nation’s financial institutions. This program is designed to help small businesses meet the payroll and debt obligations that have been disrupted due due to business closures caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. As we work to mitigate the effects of the virus, I will continue to remain in regular contact with leadership at the SBA to ensure that the loan portal is accessible to Kansas’ banks and that the application is straightforward for small business owners. You can find additional information about the Paycheck Protection Program here.
Urging Expanded Access to Relief for Public Hospitals
This week, I led several of my colleagues in a bipartisan letter that urges Senate leadership to clarify eligibility for publicly owned hospitals and similar care providers within the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) administered by the SBA. Currently, both for-profit and non-profit hospitals are eligible for such assistance under the CARES Act, creating a disparity this clarification seeks to resolve. In response to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), hospitals are canceling routine procedures and appointments, resulting in revenue declines as high as 80 percent. Many of these hospitals are the sole provider of health needs in their community and their closure would leave wide areas of America with even great access to care issues than ever before, which we simply cannot risk during this pandemic. Congress must provide immediate relief in the form of eligibility for the loans in the PPP to allow rural hospitals to continue operating until additional assistance can be made available.
Connecting with Kansans
This week, I joined Nick Gosnell on KWBW by phone to discuss COVID-19, the current PPE shortage in Kansas and across the country and new avenues I am working on to help protect our vital health care workers. Listen to the full interview here. I also joined Joey Dean on KIUL in Garden City, Shane Farley on KSOK in Arkansas City, Brandon Tadtman on KGGF in Coffeyville, Bob Yates on KKAN in Phillipsburg, Erik Stone on KRSL in Russell, and James Bell on KAYS in Hays. I also spoke with RFD-TV to discuss the work I am doing to protect rural America, including relief for rural hospitals, small businesses and the farmers and ranchers supplying our food chain.
Calling for Certainty of Our Food Supply Chain
On Monday, I urged U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to ensure the continuity of our country’s food supply during COVID-19 by providing relief to farmers. Along with 41 other Senators, we called on the administration to make temporary flexibilities on Farm Service Agency (FSA) loans permanent for the duration of COVID-19, and to ensure adequate and equitable access to credit during this period of market uncertainty. Americans depend on our farmers to grow the food, fuel, and fiber that we all need, and that need becomes more pronounced during times of crisis. The administration should provide additional support for producers that are being affected by COVID-19, including deadline extensions, loan payment deferrals, payment forbearance, and full suspension of all current and pending foreclosure actions for the duration of the pandemic and subsequent economic recovery. I will continue to work with USDA and my Senate colleagues to ensure that Kansas farmers are aided during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Encouraging a Strong, Coordinated Federal Effort for First Responders
On Tuesday, I urged President Trump to coordinate a strong federal effort to support our first responders by addressing the national shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). A shortage of PPE could lead to first responders unnecessarily being exposed to COVID-19 and could hamper the ability of emergency personnel to serve on the front lines during this public health crisis. Without aggressive federal action, we risk leaving first responders across the country without the tools and equipment they need to keep both themselves and our communities safe during this crisis.
Speaking with Crawford County Leaders
On Saturday morning, I hosted a video conference with Crawford County and Pittsburg area leaders to hear local thoughts and concerns about the impacts of COVID-19. I shared information on federal efforts with health providers, local businesses, Pittsburg State University along with city, county and state officials. Discussion centered on how federal efforts are impacting the community and what my office can do to better assist during this pandemic. I updated local leaders on my efforts to increase testing in Kansas and communicated how we are assisting businesses who have the ability to produce PPE get necessary authorizations. I also spoke on the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program and the health care provider relief fund program, which deposited resources into local hospitals’ last week.
Thank you to Kansas Senator Richard Hilderbrand, Representative Monica Murnan, County Commission Chair Bruce Blair, Sheriff Danny Smith and PSU President Steve Scott and everyone else on the call for taking the time to join me and contribute to our conversation. I was pleased to hear the level of coordination happening in Crawford County between health care providers and local law enforcement, and that the relief from SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program has been afforded to some local businesses and their employees.
Additional Phone Conversations on COVID-19
Secretary Wilkie: This week, I spoke with VA Secretary Robert Wilkie and Dr. Richard Stone, head of the Veterans Health Administration. I was glad to reinforce to them my strong support for VA’s community care partners serving our nation’s heroes in their hometowns during this crisis and for the tremendous efforts of VA frontline staff who work diligently to fight COVID-19 on behalf of our nation’s veterans. I was pleased the secretary is interested in working together to support VA’s frontlines with additional PPE by leveraging Kansas expertise in manufacturing. We are all in this together and the VA is making a significant impact not just for veterans battling the virus, but also for nonveterans in some of the country’s hardest hit areas. As Chairman of the Senate VA Committee, I will continue to work with federal, state, public and private entities to get the resources and supplies the VA needs to keep serving veterans and, where needed, nonveterans.
KC Army Corps Commander: On Tuesday, I had a phone call with Colonel Bill Hannan, the Commander of the Kansas City District for the Army Corps of Engineers. We discussed the Army Corps’ response to the COVID-19 outbreak and the upcoming flood season. The Army Corps has played a vital role in the response to COVID-19, most notably in the conversion of existing buildings into temporary medical facilities. Commander Hannan told me that the Kansas City District is prepared to aid Kansas in creating temporary medical facilities should the state request this assistance.
Commander Hannan also assured me that the Kansas City District is continuing to prepare for the upcoming flood season. Last year, Kansas experienced extensive rain fall that caused flooding and damage throughout the state, including to flood control structures. The Kansas City District is continuing to prioritize levee reconstruction through the COVID-19 outbreak to make sure that Kansas is prepared for additional flooding this year. Earlier this year, I introduced legislation that would establish a new program that would require the Army Corps to implement a system-wide approach to water development projects to reduce flood risk and improve flood protection along the lower Missouri River. I will continue to work with the Army Corps and my senate colleagues to reduce the risk of flooding in Kansas and to address the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.
Army Vice Chief of Staff: On Friday, I spoke with the Army’s Vice Chief of Staff, General Joe Martin. General Martin is a Big Red One soldier and I am encouraged that the Army has turned to leaders who have an intimate knowledge of Kansas and our priorities. He provided me with an update on the Army’s efforts to combat COVID-19, which includes mobilizing active, guard and reserve troops to support the relief effort and producing a COVID-19 vaccine in conjunction with their civilian counterparts. General Martin also provided me with an update on our troops from the 1st Infantry Division deployed to South Korea. These soldiers are doing well, and measures are being taken to limit the spread of COVID-19 to keep them safe and healthy.
Veterans Service Organizations: In furthering my priority to care for our nation’s veterans, I spoke to veteran leaders from Kansas and across the country this week. Our country has a number of resources and services providing opportunities for our veterans, and these encompass both government resources at the federal and state levels, as well as private and nonprofit assistance from businesses and veterans service organizations. All of these organizations are working to adapt the services and assistance they provide to address new challenges veterans face during the pandemic response, and they are finding new ways to deliver those services and benefits remotely to keep veterans and the public safe through social distancing.
I am pleased to learn how hard these veteran leaders are working to continue their missions during these tough times. Our Senate VA Committee will continue to work with these partners to make certain veterans and the organizations that support them have the latest information on the federal response to COVID-19 and that we are working together to identify new ways of delivering the resources that will help our veterans be successful as we navigate and come through the current crisis.
Southwest Airlines: Last Wednesday, I connected with Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines on the impact COVID-19 is having on the airline and the traveling public. Southwest Airlines provides a vital service to Kansans and local businesses through the Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport and Kansas City International Airport, and I look forward to ensuring their continued presence in Kansas.
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 Girard National Bank CEO Mark Schifferdecker, Children’s Mercy Hospital CEO Paul Kempinski, Kansas Hospital Association CEO Tom Bell, The University of Kansas Health System CFO Doug Gaston, Dr. Steve Short of Manhattan, Dole VA Medical Center Dr. Dana Foley, VA Heartland Network Dr. Bill Patterson, Kevin Mitchelson of Wheeler & Mitchelson, Kansas Adjutant General Dave Weishaar, Wichita Intrust Bank CEO Charlie Chandler, AMCE Theatres CEO Adam Aron, and Wichita Bank of America President Shawn Lancelot for allowing me to touch base with you this week.
COVID Care Force: A Call for Health Care Professional Volunteers
This week I also spoke with Dr. Gary Morsch, a Kansas City native and 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 health care professionals” to deploy to hotspots or areas of critical need because of health care 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 health care professionals and volunteers who are already putting their own lives and health at risk to protect and help others.
Beware of Scammers
Don’t fall prey to scammers who will try and use our national crisis to their advantage. The IRS is not going to call, text or email you for personal or financial information regarding COVID-19 related relief checks. If you have questions regarding a suspicious call or inquiry, please click here for more information.
2020 Census Reminder
April 1 was Census Day, but it’s not too late to complete the 2020 Census! Your response to the 2020 Census matters, and the results can shape many different aspects of your community over the next decade. 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.
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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