Kansas Common Sense
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Showcasing the Air Capital of the World to the U.S. Air Force Secretary
On Wednesday, I traveled with U.S. Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett back to Wichita to host the Secretary at McConnell Air Force Base, the National Institute of Aviation Research (NIAR) and Spirit AeroSystems over a period of two days. Last year, I extended an invitation for her to visit the Air Capital of the World prior to her confirmation, and I was pleased we were able to make this visit a reality to showcase Kansas’ strong aerospace innovation.
Our visit began with a tour of the Innovation Research Lab at McConnell Air Force Base, which was established in 2018 to provide airmen the opportunity to work with local civilians to develop cost-effective and creative solutions for small scale issues that impact our military. Following the tour, USAF Secretary Barrett, Congressman Ron Estes and I had dinner with 22nd Wing Commander Colonel Rich Tanner, Squadron Commanders and airmen at the base.
After dinner, we took a two-hour flight in the KC-46 Pegasus, a military aerial refueling aircraft, to witness a refueling mission. I have worked closely with the Air Force and U.S. Department of Defense officials to remediate issues with KC-46, and I remain encouraged by the progress being made.
Thank you to 22nd Wing Commander Colonel Tanner for taking time the time to organize our visit and provide valuable feedback. USAF Secretary Barrett's visit to the 22nd Air Refueling Wing was extremely beneficial in witnessing firsthand the great effort that our airmen lend at McConnell to preserve our freedom.
On Thursday, we toured NIAR and Spirit AeroSystems. NIAR has earned a reputation as one of the most productive defense laboratories in the country, and USAF Secretary Barrett was able to witness firsthand the impressive work being done by researchers in Kansas. This included the recent delivery of a B1 bomber for NIAR to create a digital twin of the aircraft to be used for sustainability and maintenance work across the bomber fleet.
We also traveled to Spirit AeroSystems for a tour of their production line and to learn more about current projects with the U.S. Air Force. They have the ability to support the next generation of Air Force planes, and I was pleased to showcase how Wichita can further support our military’s strategic programs and priorities.
Thank you to NIAR Aging Aircraft Laboratory Director Melinda Laubach-Hock and Spirit AeroSystems CEO Tom Gentile and Duane Hawkins, Senior Vice President of Defense & Fabrication, for hosting Secretary Barrett, Congressman Estes and me at your facilities.
I have continually hosted military leaders and officials in Wichita to showcase our leading research and development efforts for the Department of Defense, as well as our capacity to expand our state’s defense portfolio which would create more jobs for Kansans. Both NIAR and Spirit AeroSystems are bringing key national security programs into the 21st century, and I look forward to seeing what they both do in the future.
Advancing the Stop Senior Scams Act
On Wednesday, my Stop Senior Scams Act unanimously passed the Senate in an effort to meaningfully protect our nation’s seniors from increasingly complex and deceiving scams. Our nation’s seniors are among the most vulnerable consumers in this digital age, and scammers frequently target seniors to steal their money, identity and dignity. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when fraudsters are seeking to take advantage of vulnerable Americans, this bill would initiate appropriate public-private coordination by creating a federal advisory council charged with bringing together relevant government officials, industry representatives, advocates and consumers to develop educational materials for retailers, financial institutions and wire-transfer companies to use in an effort to stop scams that target seniors.
Far too often our seniors are targeted by dishonest people who wish to deceive and scam them. These scammers use various tactics, such as pretending to be a family member in distress, a government agency or a romantic interest. I appreciate the Senate passing this legislation and urge the House of Representatives to bring this important legislation to the floor for a vote. As Chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, I will continue my work to make certain our nation’s seniors are protected and informed.
Working to Build a More Resilient VA Supply Chain
On Tuesday, I chaired a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on building a more resilient VA supply chain with Veteran Health Administration officials and industry leaders. The VA recognizes the need for improvement in this area, particularly in its supply related to COVID-19, and this hearing was a step towards understanding how improvement can be achieved. I emphasized the need to consider real-time improvements, long-term sustainability, on-hand supply and logistics, because inventory that is unable to move is no use to anyone. The committee will continue to work with the VA and industry partners to ensure the VA is supplied and prepared to provide care to veterans and respond to health emergencies.
Passing Expanded Legal Protections for Servicemembers During COVID-19
As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I was pleased to see the Senate unanimously passed legislation I introduced with Ranking Member Tester to expand the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) to offer more protections to servicemembers during COVID-19. The SCRA provides legal protection to servicemembers to prevent them from being taken advantage of while on duty or deployed, and can postpone or suspend financial or civil obligations.
This bipartisan legislation would expand those protections for servicemembers who were previously issued orders to change duty stations but, due to COVID-19, received a stop movement order and may have a housing or car lease in two different locations. It also provides much-needed peace of mind for our military families who have financial or civil commitments in two different locations at no fault of their own. I urge my colleagues in the House of Representatives to swiftly pass this legislation and advance it to President Trump’s desk to be signed into law.
Encouraging the Inclusion of the VA on the President’s Defense Production Act Committee
On Monday, I urged President Trump to add the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to the Defense Production Act Committee (DPAC). DPAC advises the president on the most effective use of the Defense Production Act to meet the nation’s needs, such as medical supplies and personal protective equipment during COVID-19. As one of the nation's largest integrated health care systems and the largest federal agency charged with the delivery of health care, I believe the VA has an integral role to play in DPAC.
Advocating for the USPS
This week, I highlighted the need to put the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) on a more sustainable path to Senate leadership as the Senate considers additional COVID-19 legislation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the USPS continues to provide vital services across the nation. Mail delivery has always been a critical component of American infrastructure, but never more than during the current public health crisis, especially to Kansas’ rural towns and older residents. Recent news that the USPS is facing an immediate financial crisis is concerning, and the loss of the USPS would be crippling for America’s rural communities. In order to keep the USPS operational, Congress should provide much-needed relief and necessary reforms to ensure long-term solvency.
To learn more about my work for the USPS, click here to read my editorial in the Salina Journal.
Addressing Housing Disruptions During COVID-19
On Tuesday, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing with our nation’s federal housing regulators. We received testimonies from Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson and the Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency Mark Calabria. The committee addressed concerns with the disruption that COVID-19 has had on the U.S. economy and homeowners and the housing market in particular.
Since the outbreak, there has been a significant number of mortgage borrowers who have been forced to enter forbearance, renters who are unsure they can make their next payment and lenders tightening the requirements to qualify for a new home. In response, Congress passed the CARES Act extending foreclosure and eviction protections for millions of residential borrowers facing financial hardship, ensuring that borrowers and lenders have adequate resources at their disposal. As we continue to address the COVID-19 outbreak, I will work with Secretary Carson and Director Calabria to provide solutions to the unique burdens placed upon homeowners through no fault of their own.
Meeting with the National Sorghum Producers
This weekend, I joined National Sorghum Producers for a virtual meeting to discuss current issues facing farmers. We discussed the worsening drought conditions in western Kansas, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) and need for additional assistance for producers, needed infrastructure improvements in rural America and the importance of trade, especially with China, for the success of Kansas farmers and ranchers. Kansas leads the nation in sorghum production, and exporting the crops we grow to consumers around the world is vital for the success of our farmers and ranchers.
It was great to hear from sorghum producers both in Kansas and throughout the nation as I work to advocate on behalf of farmers and ranchers in Washington, D.C.
Wichita and Kansas City Receive Grants to Support Public Transportation
On Thursday, I was pleased to announce that the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) and Wichita Transit secured two Department of Transportation grants funded through the CARES Act. The $51 million grant awarded to KCATA will be directed toward continuing transit operations, and the $14 million grant for Wichita Transit will be utilized for operating expenses, preventive maintenance, and protective gear during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Kansas begins to safely reopen and our lives return to normal, these grants will help ensure KCATA and Wichita Transit can continue providing critical public transit services to the area.
Distributing Meals at Kansas Schools
On Friday, I had the opportunity to help distribute meals at Abilene Middle School and Garfield Elementary School in Clay Center to students in the communities. To help make certain students continue to receive nutritious meals during the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools across Kansas have switched to providing drive-thru meal services. Thank you to Jenna Delay and Greg Brown at Abilene Middle School and Brett Nelson at Garfield Elementary School for making this possible.
Speaking with the Kansas State Nurses Association
I was pleased to speak with the Kansas State Nurses Association on Monday evening, where we discussed the impact of COVID-19 on their profession and the financial difficulties nurses and our providers are currently facing. We also discussed the particular needs of nurses who serve our aging population in nursing homes, senior living centers and skilled nursing facilities. These patients carry the highest risk from infection of COVID-19, and it is important to make sure these providers are able to access the required equipment to adequately protect patients and staff. Thank you to our Kansas nurses who are on the front lines in the fight against this coronavirus.
Joining the Derby Chamber of Commerce
I joined the Derby Chamber of Commerce on Thursday for a socially distanced luncheon, where I was able to discuss my continued efforts to diversify the local aviation economy through defense work. Before the luncheon, I hosted U.S. Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett at McConnell Air Force base, the National Institute for Aviation Research and Spirit AeroSystems and was able to share my experience with the USAF Secretary and how the leaders at McConnell Air Force base praised the people in Derby for being a great community. We also discussed the work I’m doing as Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, emphasizing community care for veterans and the importance of mental health, as well as COVID-19 and the continued need for personal protection equipment. Thank you to President Mark Staats for the invitation and kind introduction, City Manager Kathy Sexton for her local COVID-19 update and her continued strong stewardship, Pastor Ben Ray, Kansas Rep. Blake Carpenter, Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell and Mayor Randy White for attending.
Meeting with the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce
On Monday, I enjoyed discussing the importance of trade to Kansas, bolstering U.S. manufacturing, my Cancer Drug Parity Act and the federal response to COVID-19, including the Paycheck Protection Program, unemployment insurance and the development of a vaccine with the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce. Thank you to President Tracey Osborne Oltjen for the opportunity to join and answer chamber member questions.
Discussing CARES Act Resources with Rock Regional Hospital Leadership
Later Thursday morning, I met with the leadership team of Rock Regional Hospital in Derby. Like so many health care providers, Rock Regional is suffering financially due to cancelations of non-emergency surgeries and procedures during the COVID-19 crisis. My staff and I will continue to work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to make certain that the hospital has access to critical CARES Act funding to support them during these challenging times.
During our conversation, it was reassuring to hear that the hospital is as safe as it has ever been due to increased safety measures and is now accepting more patients. Thank you to CEO Teresa Collins, Vice President of Business Development Barry Beus and consultant Mark Dugan for the informative visit.
Recognizing Women Veterans Day
On Friday, we celebrated the anniversary of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act being signed into law by President Harry S. Truman in 1948. This legislation allowed women to serve as regular members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
On Women Veterans Day, we honor the more than 2 million women who have served and protected our country. Women veterans face unique challenges and often are less likely to seek and receive the benefits and services they have rightfully earned compared to their male counterparts. As Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I am striving to ensure women veterans receive those benefits and the Department of Veterans Affairs is prepared to address their needs.
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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