Murphy Statement on Escalation in Israeli-Palestinian Violence

Source: United States Senator for Connecticut – Chris Murphy

May 13, 2021

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, on Thursday released the following statement on the recent escalation in Israeli-Palestinian violence:  

“I am increasingly concerned by the widening conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Just days ago, Hamas and its allies escalated this conflict by indiscriminately launching rockets at civilian areas in Israel. These terrorist attacks provoked retaliatory air strikes on Gaza that cost more than 100 lives. I remain deeply concerned about a ground invasion of Gaza. We know that civilians would unfortunately bear the brunt of a ground war, and hundreds if not thousands of people may die,” said Murphy. “Ground operations will not stop the rockets falling on Israel, or solve the fundamental security challenges that Israel faces. Only a ceasefire in the short-term, and a real path to a viable two-state future in the long-term can do that. Right now, mediators are in Israel and Gaza seeking to deescalate the situation. I encourage all sides to agree to a ceasefire as quickly as possible to avert further tragedy and save innocent civilian lives.” 

 ###

Murphy Discusses Crisis in Israel and Palestinian Territories, Lays Out Importance of Restarting Iran Nuclear Deal

Source: United States Senator for Connecticut – Chris Murphy

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, on Thursday joined the Middle East Institute’s Views from the Hill for a discussion on the latest developments in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, his recent travels to the Middle East, and the importance of returning to the Iran nuclear deal as a way to de-escalate regional tensions. Murphy’s remarks were followed by a moderated conversation with Paul Salem, president of the Middle East Institute.

On the recent violence between Israelis and Palestinians, Murphy said: “Our collective heart here in the United States is breaking for Israelis and Palestinians… Zero sum politics practiced by both the Netanyahu government and Palestinian leadership have caused us to arrive at this point. Yes, the precipitating flashpoint was in my mind the unjustifiable eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem. The Netanyahu government’s campaign to make practically impossible a viable future Palestinian state has bred a sense of hopelessness for the future in the West Bank and Gaza. And it shouldn’t surprise anybody that at some point the pot was going to boil over. But the Palestinians have contributed to this path to crisis as well. Choosing Hamas, an organization that seeks the elimination of Israel, to lead Gaza was a disaster for Palestinians. And the [Palestinian Authority]’s inability to deliver basic services for its people and its cultivation of grievance against Israel is a big part of the story as to how we arrived at this moment.”

Murphy continued: “Right now, the focus needs to be on a ceasefire. Hamas needs to end all attacks on Israel. And Israel should take off the table a ground invasion of Gaza.”

On the importance of returning the Iran nuclear deal, Murphy said: “[I]f the United States does not reenter the Iran nuclear agreement, my belief is all this progress, nascent as it may be, will be at risk…Joe Biden ran on a promise to reenter the Iran nuclear agreement. He made this commitment because he knew the agreement was critical to American security…But Trump went in a different direction. Instead of building on the Iran deal, he decided to put to test the theory of its opponents: that if the U.S. imposed unilateral, crippling sanctions on Iran, leaders in Tehran would limp to the negotiating table, cowed and willing to put all the issues—nuclear enrichment, missiles, human rights, proxy support—up for discussion. That’s what Obama’s critics said he should have done, and those critics cheered when Trump took their advice. What happened, of course, was a policy cataclysm.” 

Murphy went on to discuss his recent travels to Qatar, Oman and Jordan where he saw achievable results if we were to re-enter the Iran nuclear deal. Murphy said: “This momentum toward reconciliation is encouraging, but it’s still so fragile. And one major setback—one major, unexpected diplomatic hiccup—could turn all of this progress around. I worry that that could be the failure of America and Iran to get back into the nuclear agreement.

Murphy concluded: “What we should all be worried about is that Trump’s Iran policy becomes, by accident, permanent. And this is what may occur if the Vienna talks fail. Iran will continue to speed up its nuclear research program, maximum pressure sanctions will continue, and a chill will be delivered to the de-escalation momentum in the Gulf. But on the other hand, reentering the deal, while effectively I would argue already priced into a Biden electoral win, will nonetheless be seen as a diplomatic victory at a perfect time to score a win for diplomacy in the region. And the Middle East countries who have found new affection for a U.S.-Iran agreement, they’ll exhale. The restarted agreement could be a platform for the Saudis and the Iranians to keep talking about a new regional security architecture; it will make it less likely that Iran will use conflicts like Yemen to provoke the United States and our allies; and the P5+1 will be reunited on Iran policy, allowing us to work together with a unified front to address Iran’s other destabilizing activity.

“I’m not naïve. The Middle East still has too many intractable crises…[and] the events of the last several days in Israel and Gaza are a reminder of the grave challenges that remain. But there is an overall mood of de-escalation in and around the Gulf…[and] the best way for the U.S. to nurture those grass shoots is to restart the Iran nuclear deal,” Murphy said.

On Monday, Murphy held a press call to discuss his recent travels to Qatar, Oman and Jordan. Murphy’s trip included meetings with foreign leaders and senior officials including Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Omani Foreign Minister Al-Busaidi, Qatari Foreign Minister Al-Thani, United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths and several European ambassadors to Yemen to discuss the humanitarian crisis and urgent need to find a political solution to end the war in Yemen. Murphy joined senior members of the Biden Administration – including Yemen Special Envoy Tim Lenderking, U.S. State Department Counselor Derek Chollet and National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk – during parts of the trip and discussed the reform agenda in the Middle East; prospects for preserving the two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians; instability in Syria and the refugee crisis; and the need to restart the Iran nuclear deal. On Saturday, Murphy also released a statement about the violence in Jerusalem.  

A full transcript of Murphy’s opening remarks can be found below:

“The purpose of my remarks this morning is to really speak about my primary takeaway from my recent trip to the Middle East that Kate referenced, and to really talk about the urgency of restarting the Iran nuclear agreement. But before I make this case I do want to say a few words about the recent escalation of violence in Israel and Gaza and there will likely be questions and discussion about what is happening this week.

“Our collective heart here in the United States is breaking for Israelis and Palestinians. The images we’re watching are just bone chilling. Rockets, interceptors streaking across the night sky, parents huddled with their children as sirens ring out, images of innocent civilians including kids injured or killed in the blasts.

“Zero sum politics practiced by both the Netanyahu government and Palestinian leadership have caused us to arrive at this point. Yes, the precipitating flashpoint was in my mind the unjustifiable eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem. The Netanyahu government’s campaign to make practically impossible a viable future Palestinian state, it has bred a sense of hopelessness for the future in the West Bank and Gaza. And it shouldn’t surprise anybody that at some point the pot was going to boil over.

“But the Palestinians have contributed to this path to crisis as well. Choosing Hamas, an organization that seeks the elimination of Israel, to lead Gaza was a disaster for Palestinians. And the PA’s inability to deliver basic services for its people and its cultivation of grievance against Israel is a big part of the story as to how we arrived at this moment.

“But let’s be honest, the United States, especially during the last four years, we’ve played a role too. President Trump rejected America’s historic role as a broker for peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. President Trump’s rejection, his effective rejection of a Palestinian state and his refusal to mediate, it helped to drive the two sides further apart.

“Right now, the focus needs to be on a ceasefire. Hamas needs to end all attacks on Israel. 

“And Israel should take off the table a ground invasion of Gaza. No doubt, Israel possesses the military power to destroy Gaza. But when children die in Gaza, it does nothing to secure Israel. In fact, it does the opposite—it provides further fuel to this furnace of grievances.

“I’m glad the administration is sending Deputy Assistant Secretary Amr to the region. It’s critical we get a formal U.S. Ambassador to Israel soon as well so we can start playing a more direct role in, once again, mediating between Israelis and Palestinians.

“Now, let me talk about my recent visit to the region.

“I recently spent about five days there crossing paths with a flock of Biden officials who were making stops throughout the region as well, and listen, I can honestly report that setting aside the conflict in Israel, and I know this week it’s difficult to construct a narrative of the region that sets aside that conflict, there is something positive is afoot in the Middle East. 

“The four-year-long rift between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors is healing. There’s a new diplomatic energy behind ceasefire talks in Yemen, and the Saudis and the Iranians are in direct talks for the first time in years. All of this, I was told repeatedly by leaders in the Middle East is happening because President Biden has made clear that de-escalation will be rewarded and supported by the United States. This is a stark departure from the Trump administration.

“This is good news. But the bad news quickly follows: if the United States does not re-enter the Iran nuclear agreement, my belief is all this progress, nascent as it may be, will be at risk, and this is what I primarily want to talk about today.

“Joe Biden ran on a promise to reenter the Iran nuclear agreement. He made this commitment because he knew that the agreement was critical to American security. With Iran’s nuclear program curtailed and inspectors allowed to comb every inch of the country to look for signs of a secret enrichment program, the world could breathe a sigh of relief knowing that for all of Iran’s other malevolent policies, at least we could be certain that they were not developing a nuclear weapon. The achievement of the deal, of course, brought together unlikely bedfellows: the U.S., Europe, Russia, and China. And on Iran policy, this coalition of regular adversaries was intact at the end of the Obama administration. It was ready to be picked up by President Trump to confront Iran’s ballistic missile program and their support for regional proxy forces like Hezbollah.

“But Trump went in a different direction. Instead of building on the Iran deal, he decided to put to test the theory of its opponents: that if the U.S. imposed unilateral, crippling sanctions on Iran, leaders in Tehran would limp to the negotiating table, cowed and willing to put all the issues—nuclear enrichment, missiles, human rights, proxy support—up for discussion. That’s what Obama’s critics said he should have done, and those critics cheered when Trump took their advice.

“What happened, of course, was a policy cataclysm. Trump imposed the sanctions, and our partners, instead of following America’s lead, effectively took the Iranian side, even helping Iran work around our sanctions. Making matters worse, when Trump sent word to the Iranians of America’s 12 demands, they refused to talk. Instead, they ratcheted up their bad behavior. They sent more support to the Houthis in Yemen, they restarted dormant parts of their nuclear program—reducing their breakout time to a weapon from over a year to somewhere around three months—and they resumed attacks on American forces in the region, both directly and through proxies. In fact, Iranian-backed attacks on U.S. installments in Iraq have become so frequent that they barely make the news anymore.

“Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign was a spectacular failure, and the definitive proof that the alternative approach, cheered by the Iran deal’s opponents—keeping sanctions in place until Iran totally capitulates—was a fantasy. Instead, the situation has empowered the more hardline wing of an already extreme regime who are prepared to perpetually operate a resistance economy and blame the United States for all of Iran’s suffering.

“But now, those same U.S. critics are back, and incredibly, despite the writing inked on the wall during the past four years, their argument hasn’t changed a bit. Just keep doing what Trump did, and this time it will work. They suggest that getting back into the deal, as Biden pledged during his campaign, isn’t enough. They want a new deal that includes a resolution of all of Iran’s bad acts. But unless we are prepared to invade Iran and demand unconditional surrender—and newsflash: we’re not—then that comprehensive, soup-to-nuts deal is a neoconservative fantasy. It doesn’t exist in real life.

“In real life, the achievable result is a restart of the nuclear agreement. But the good news is that this result, in 2021, might have an even greater peace dividend than when it was first executed in 2015. This brings me back to my recent trip to the region. For example, I heard the story of how quickly talks on healing the GCC rift matured as soon as Biden won the election. Countries that were at each other’s throats throughout the Trump Administration were suddenly coming to terms with each other. The reason was simple: while conflict, bullying and score settling—Trump’s calling cards—were rewarded during his term, countries quickly realized that diplomacy and de-escalation would most quickly win favor with President Biden. In Oman, I heard how the Saudis were suddenly much more willing to make additional concessions in Yemen, and how the Houthis were now more likely to trust the U.S. as an interlocutor. In Jordan, the King talked about an Iraqi government that was more welcoming than ever of help from places other than Tehran, and he spoke of Jordan’s new overtures to a Baghdad government that was looking for a more diverse set of allies. And everybody in the region, at every stop on my trip, buzzed about the new dialogue between the Saudis and Iranians. Reports suggested that these two countries wanted to begin talks during the Trump Administration, but were discouraged from doing so.

“The momentum toward reconciliation is encouraging, but it’s still so fragile. And one major setback—one major, unexpected diplomatic hiccup—could turn all of this progress around. I worry that that could be the failure of America and Iran to get back into the nuclear agreement.

“If the talks fail and the Biden administration is forced to implement Trump’s Iran policy for the next four years, complete with the continuation of these unilateral, crippling sanctions it’s easy to see how all this progress could disintegrate. The so-called Iranian moderates would head back to Tehran with no deal and be defeated in upcoming elections. A harder line government, much less prone to diplomacy, would be chosen to take over, scuttle peace talks over Yemen, end outreach to the Saudis, work like mad to make sure their proxies in Iraq take power in the upcoming parliamentary elections. This could convince the Saudis to double down again militarily in Yemen, and open up new fissures in the Gulf.

“Now, maybe this is an overly apocalyptic vision of what could occur if the nuclear negotiations go south, but I fear it is more accurate than fantastical. The stakes might be this high.

“Which, lastly, brings me to the negotiations in Vienna, and I want to take just a few minutes to talk about some of the details. If the consequences of success are so promising, and the ramifications of failure are so dire, then what has to happen in order to guarantee a good outcome? First, the structure of the talks are deeply problematic. The Iranians have refused to negotiate directly with the United States, that’s on them. We’re left to pass notes back and forth through intermediaries. During my trip, I heard of some overtures to facilitate direct talks, but so long as the Iranians stubbornly refuse to sit across from our team, then failure is absolutely an option.

“Increasingly, countries in Iran’s neighborhood that were hostile to or neutral to the talks in 2015 suddenly have their eyes wide open to the positive benefit of the deal’s restart. And so we should work to make sure that Middle East leaders who have the ear of the Iranian government or the Supreme Leader, they apply appropriate pressure. Those countries should make clear that Iran’s relationships in the region will be at risk if they fail to get back into the deal.

“On our side of the ledger, we need to be willing to be creative on sanctions relief. Of course, any restart of the nuclear agreement, it’s going to require the U.S. to drop the sanctions Trump applied to Iran’s economy that have the same practical and effective impact as the Obama-era nuclear sanctions.

“But what about the other sanctions Trump layered on top of the economic sanctions? Let me give you an example, it should be expected that the Iranians would want us to lift Trump’s designation of their primary military force—the IRGC—as a terrorist organization. This wasn’t strictly a ‘nuclear sanction,’ but, let’s be honest, it was certainly a key part of Trump’s maximum pressure campaign and it was specifically designed to bring Iran back to the negotiating table on their nuclear program.

“In evaluating the wisdom of peeling back these non-economic sanctions, it’s important to remember that they were all completely feckless—these sanctions had no impact. In fact, their only impact was to worsen Iran’s behavior. So, lifting them would have no practical negative impact.

“Just as importantly, lifting that particular designation – a rather technical exercise under U.S. statute –  actually doesn’t prevent us from sanctioning the truly bad actors in the Iranian military. For example, we have sanctions on some of the most brutal IRGC interrogators. Those would stay in place, even if we lifted the blanket IRGC designation.

“Now, this is just one example of a Trump-era sanction whose erasure would have little to no practical impact. But there are many more. But I use this example to show how weighing the equities, the benefit of getting back into the deal, is going to be far greater than the imaginary benefit of keeping many of Trump’s non-economic sanctions in place.

“Now, let’s be clear. If sanctions like this are removed in order to get back into the deal, opponents of the agreement are going to cry bloody murder. They will accuse Biden of giving more than Obama gave. But of course, this is the exact trap that Trump purposely set for his successor. He applied sanctions on Iran in connection with the pullout of the nuclear deal, but called them non-nuclear sanctions, hoping that the next President would be caught in this sticky web. Biden should not be bound by Trump’s tortured sanctions logic. 

“But just as importantly, let me assure you that no matter the particulars or the details of an agreement to restart the nuclear deal, the deal’s critics are going to loudly oppose the agreement. They opposed it in 2015. They’re going to oppose it today. And my advice to the Biden negotiating team is that they shouldn’t be under the impression that they are going to win a whole new crowd of allies just because they find some innovative way to thread the negotiating needle.

“What we should all be worried about is that Trump’s Iran policy becomes, by accident, permanent. And this is what may occur if the Vienna talks fail. Iran will continue to speed up its nuclear research program, maximum pressure sanctions will continue, and a chill will be delivered to the de-escalation momentum in the Gulf.

“But, on the other hand, reentering the deal, while effectively I would argue already priced into a Biden electoral win, will nonetheless be seen as a diplomatic victory at a perfect time to score a win for diplomacy in the region. And the Middle East countries who have found new affection for a U.S.-Iran agreement, they’ll exhale. The restarted agreement could be a platform for the Saudis and the Iranians to keep talking about a new regional security architecture; it will make it less likely that Iran will use conflicts like Yemen to provoke the United States and our allies; and the P5+1 will be reunited on Iran policy, allowing us to work together with a unified front to address Iran’s other destabilizing activity.

“Now, I’m not naïve. The Middle East still has too many intractable crises. Paul’s in Lebanon today, the events of the last several days in Israel and Gaza are a reminder of the grave challenges that remain. But there is an overall mood of de-escalation in and around the Gulf, and I think it’s real. And it’s much better than the old incentive structure for escalation. So I see the roots of positive change slowly, quietly growing. It’s hard to see it through the fire and rocket attacks of the last week, but, right now, the best way for the U.S. to nurture those grass shoots is to restart the Iran nuclear deal.”

###

On Senate Floor, Portman Urges End to Federal Unemployment Supplement as Economy Reopens

Source: United States Senator for Ohio Rob Portman

May 13, 2021 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DC – Today on the Senate floor, Senator Portman discussed the need to end the federal unemployment supplement, after a disappointing April jobs report that saw only 266,000 jobs added, a quarter of what most economists predicted. This is despite a record 8.1 million job openings at the end of March, the most in history. Portman argued that while we should work to address the skills gap, continue to vaccinate more Americans, and reopen schools to help people get back to work and into jobs, the primary barrier is the $300 per week federal unemployment insurance (UI) supplement that, when combined with the state unemployment benefits, has created a situation where more than 40 percent of workers can make more by not working than they would by working.

Portman highlighted numerous examples of businesses in Ohio and across the country that are offering generous hiring bonuses to staff up as they see heavy demand, yet cannot fill the positions they need to stay open, resulting in some businesses that survived COVID-19 being forced to close. He noted how more than 30 states have started re-implementing work-search requirements for individuals to remain eligible for UI, including Ohio, which along with at least 14 other states has also begun opting out of the federal UI supplement. Portman urged the Biden administration to end this generous federal UI supplement so that people can get back to work nationwide and help the economy recover.

A transcript of his remarks is below and a video can be found here:

“I’m here on the floor today to talk about the economy, what’s going on in the jobs front and where we go from here. Last week, the Department of Labor issued their most recent jobs report. It showed that we added 266,000 jobs in April. That was about one quarter of what was predicted. It was disappointing. It shows that job growth coming out of the pandemic has now slowed. It’s a question as to why, because there are so many jobs out there. How is it that there can be so many jobs available and yet have such a disappointing April jobs report? The demand for workers is certainly high.

“The other thing going on out there is that we have creeping inflation. We learned this past week that the consumer price index rose 4.2 percent between April 2020 and April 2021. So the year, April to April, that’s the highest 12-month increase going back to the summer of 2008. This whole debate going on about whether there is inflation or not. Well, I would ask you to talk to your constituents because they’ll tell you there’s inflation. There is inflation at the gas pump, there is inflation at the grocery store, there is inflation if you are trying to build something, there is inflation throughout the economy right now, and that should concern every American. And it is because of policy choices. It doesn’t have to be this way.

“What this argument boils down to with regard to jobs and with regard to inflation really are two very different approaches and philosophies of government in how to create jobs, how to increase wages, how to help working families. The Biden administration believes the government needs to spend more to prime the pump. This is despite us being told by every economic analysis, including our own nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, that without any new stimulus, at the beginning of this year, we were going to see the economy come back, come back strongly. In fact, all the studies showed that the rate of growth this year was going to be four percent or more without any stimulus, without any new spending, and that by mid-year, according to the Congressional Budget Office, we’d be back to the pre-pandemic economy and economic growth.

“And yet the Biden administration insisting on priming the pump, putting more money out there. The $1.9 trillion spending package was all about that. Some of us raised concerns about it and warned about this. By the way, one of us who did this was Larry Summers, who was the Secretary of Treasury under a Democratic administration and is a prominent economist on the other side of the aisle. He said this, and he was right, that this risk overheating an economy that was already growing and would result in inflation. Unfortunately, the massive stimulus seems to have exactly done that.

“Unfortunately, now there is another wave of spending that is being projected. Over $4 trillion is being proposed in new spending in addition to the $1.9 trillion. Two new packages the president talked about in his address to the Congress last week. So it’s interesting, because even though inflation is going up, even though the jobs market is disappointing, it seems like the administration isn’t changing course.

“One thing they are not changing course on is they want to continue to pay people a substantial amount not to work. Now, in my view, during the COVID-19 crisis, at the heat of it, we needed to do something to help people who had lost their jobs through no fault of their own. And the state unemployment systems was a place to do that. So we added a federal supplement on top of the state unemployment benefit. In Ohio, the state pays about $360 a week on average. It is about half of whatever your salary was or whatever your income was, and we added $300 on top of that. So think about that – instead of $360 it is $660 per week on average. That means that for 42 percent of people who are on unemployment insurance, this is a national figure, they’re making more on unemployment than they were at work. More on unemployment than they were at work. So a lot of people have made the logical decision to say, ‘Why should I be going back to work?’

“Unfortunately, when the president has been asked about this, he says, ‘I know there’s been a lot of discussion that people are being paid to stay home rather than go to work… Well, I don’t see much evidence of that.’ With all due respect, I hope the president will talk to some of the business owners that I’m talking to, particularly small businesses. The numbers tell a different story. According to the most recent Labor Department data released just this week at the end of March, we have 8.1 million job openings in America. That’s 8.1 million jobs opening. And we all know that because we’re back in our states as we will be later today or tomorrow and we’ll see the ‘Help Wanted’ signs. By the way, that’s the highest number in history. We’ve never had eight million jobs open in America.

“The job increases were broadly distributed based on this Labor Department study. 185,000 new job openings in restaurants and hospitality – as they are getting going, many of these restaurants are saying, ‘This is great we’ve got the people coming back, but we can’t find workers.’ 155,000 in state and local education. 81,000 in entertainment. With that demand for workers and the coronavirus pandemic substantially improving, the employment numbers should be skyrocketing. We should see so many people going back to work. This is an opportunity for people to go back, to get into their careers and get back to the dignity and self-respect that comes from work, the fulfillment that comes from work, but it’s not working.’

“If you ask business owners in my home state of Ohio and across the country they will all tell you the same story, ‘Business is booming, but we can’t find workers.’ One Ohio restaurant manager said in an interview, ‘It’s crazy, honestly, we are busier than we were pre-COVID.’ But they can’t find staff to keep up with the demand. The Dayton, Ohio area Chamber of Commerce did a study very recently, 78 percent of members said they can’t find the workers they need to fill the job openings they have. Seventy eight percent. 

“So why is this happening? Well, I think there are a few reasons. One is, it’s true we still have a skills gap in our country, and that’s something I’ve been working on along with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. It’s a reason I authored what’s called the JOBS Act to make sure that we have this connection, don’t have a skills gap, and instead have the right skills being taught to match the work needs that we have. But honestly, those numbers that I just talked about with regard to entertainment jobs and restaurant jobs and state and local education jobs, most of those jobs do not require a specialized skill. So the skills gap needs to be addressed, particularly in manufacturing, where I was told today by the National Association of Manufacturers, there are 700,000 manufacturing jobs open right now. But again, many of the jobs that are open do not require advanced skills, they just require you to show up and be willing to do the work.

“It’s also understandable to me that some people may be hesitant to go back to work because of COVID, but we now have these three effective vaccines that are doing the hard work to try to get us back to a more normal lifestyle, where we can get back to school and back to church and back to synagogue and back to work. Our nation’s researchers and scientists have helped us to get to this point, and as we saw from the CDC recommendation today regarding masks, we’re turning the corner.

“I also realize that for some people, child care is an issue. There is no question about that, the cost of child care. And if you look at the numbers in terms of people not going back to work, it is true that it’s disproportionately women. I agree that is an issue, but I will tell you one of the issues we hear about as you dig deeper into this is it is because in many places the kids are not back at school. So that’s a solvable problem. It’s time for our children to go back to school. Again, follow CDC, follow the science, 54 percent of K-8 public schools were offering full-time classroom teaching in March. The rest were not. 

“But I got to tell you, none of these are the main cause of the current problem from everything I’m hearing. There are jobs and there are folks qualified to do them. They just aren’t looking for work because of the way the government has chosen to pay people not to work.

“Wages are up, by the way. So for those who say, ‘Well, employers need to raise wages,’ they are up. And by the way, that’s one reason we have inflation, because wages are going up. Wages going up, I think, is not a bad thing, even though it accounts for some of this inflation that we have. But the wages going up is not going to make the difference here, because even though wages have gone up, on average four or five percent, still people are not coming to work the way you would expect.

“Jimmy John’s is offering hiring bonuses. The McDonald’s locally where I live in Cincinnati, is offering a $500 dollar signing bonus. Chipotle is offering free college tuition after four months on the job. One wholesale distributor in Ohio is offering a $9,000 sign-on bonus for certified truck drivers. By the way, with regard to truck drivers, you know, about the Colonial Pipeline and cutting off the gas supply to the East Coast of the United States and people who are concerned going to the gas station and getting gas, and many gas stations not having any fuel available, including in states all over the east and the southeast. So the answer that some people came up with and makes sense is to have trucks actually deliver that fuel to those gas stations. And so the trucks could go to the place where the fuel is, where the pipeline would normally take it and move that fuel to the gas stations. Problem? No truck drivers. They literally cannot find truck drivers to move this fuel from the depots to the gas stations. This is a real problem.

“I have a constituent back home who contacted me yesterday, she is offering a $1,000 signing bonus. She can get nobody to step forward. She’s got 60 jobs in Ohio. She’s got 30 jobs in New York. Small business, only about 250 jobs total. She can’t find anybody. And when she talks to her people, they tell her, ‘Well, as soon as the UI ends, I’ll be back. As soon as the unemployment insurance federal supplement, the $300 supplement, I’ll be back.’ Businesses simply can’t compete in an environment where more than 40 percent of the workers are making more on the unemployment supplement than they would in their jobs.

“It’s a problem, by the way, that states themselves are now starting to deal with because they realize this is a huge problem for their economy, for their small businesses and for their workforce. As of this afternoon, just in the last week, 15 states have said, ‘You know what, I’m not going to accept the $300 supplement, because I want to get people back to work and it’s already making a difference’. Someone just told me from the state of Montana, one of our colleagues from there, and Montana was the first state to do this about a week ago, that a hotel owner told him that he was in desperate need of people and when he would put the ‘Help Wanted’ sign out and ask people to come, he could get one person to show up per week. This week, 60 people showed up. Why? Because the unemployment insurance is running out and people are now looking for work.

“So these states, I think, are going to continue to do this, I think it will be more than 15 by the time we finish speaking here this afternoon. It’s because the states realize this is a competitive advantage. If New York doesn’t do it and Ohio does and — by the way, Ohio is one of the states that just made the decision to do it this afternoon. If New York doesn’t do it, that businessperson I talked about is going to do more manufacturing in Ohio because that’s where she has the workforce. That will help Ohio relative to a state that wouldn’t choose to move on beyond the $300 supplement. Unemployment insurance is important and it’s still going to be there, but it would be the state benefit that it has always been.

“The other thing is the work requirement. In unemployment insurance, again in Ohio it’s about 50 percent of whatever your wages are, and then there’s a requirement you look for work and if you get an offer, you can’t stay on unemployment insurance. That’s always been the tradition. Under COVID, states accepted waivers not to have to require people to look for work. About 30 states now, just in the last few weeks have decided to get rid of that waiver, including Ohio. Why? Because, again, it’s not helping anybody. It’s not helping the workers. It’s not helping the small businesses, certainly. And it’s certainly not helping the taxpayer who are paying tens of billions of dollars for these supplements.

“I will say when I debated this on the Senate floor, when we had an amendment that actually passed during the COVID-19 legislation — later that amendment was amended, but we tried to end the unemployment insurance sooner given the economic numbers that were out there – one of the Democratic colleagues in the other side said that, do I think that Ohio workers don’t have work ethic or are lazy? That’s not what I think at all. I don’t think they are lazy at all. I think they are logical. And I think common sense dictates that when you’re offering to pay somebody more not to work than to work, you’re likely to get a bad result. So, again, it was needed when people were losing their jobs through no fault of their own, the COVID-19 devastated, really ravaged so many sectors of our economy. A lot of those sectors are coming back and coming back strong. But they need workers and they need them desperately.

 

“The stakes couldn’t be higher. Let me illustrate why. If workers don’t go back to work, some businesses will actually close and these jobs will go away permanently. That, to me, is a reality. Take Geordie’s Restaurant in Columbus, Ohio. Geordie’s shut down a couple of weeks ago because they couldn’t find enough job applicants to keep the lights on, period. They shut down. This is a restaurant that made it through the worst of the pandemic, when our restaurant and hospitality industry was in really tough shape. But as owner, Geordie Hall-Jones, said himself, ‘We fought hard to get through COVID, but COVID didn’t kill us. The stimulus did.’ The COVID didn’t kill us. The stimulus did. That’s a quote from a business owner. That’s the difference, again, between the philosophy that the Biden administration seems to be taking and, frankly, reality and the philosophy that we’re encouraging, which is, let’s get people back to work, let’s get this economy moving again.

“The president is committed to spending an unprecedented amount of tax dollars to try and get what it takes to get the economy back on track. But spending more tax dollars isn’t a prescription for what ails our economy today. Getting people back to work certainly is. If we don’t, again, businesses will close, careers cannot be continued people won’t get the fulfillment that they get from going to work, and many of these jobs will not return.

“Instead of following this path, let’s change course. Let’s follow common sense, get our country back to work so we can all enjoy the goods and services we work to provide for each other. Let’s help our nation’s small businesses, which are the lifeblood of so many of our economies. Let’s help people currently on unemployment get started building lasting careers that they enjoy, make a living, find long-term stability so they can realize their American dream. That’s what this country is all about.

 

“So today, I’m urging the Biden administration to take two simple steps to encourage people to move past the pandemic and to get back to work. First, we need to re-implement the federal requirement that people must actively be searching for work if they’re going to receive unemployment. Again, Ohio has made that decision, as have about 30 other states, but let’s make this the national standard that it was prior to the pandemic. Long-term unemployment doesn’t benefit anyone and this will ensure that people are able to get off unemployment insurance more quickly.

 

“Second, we need to draw down the federal unemployment supplement funded by the COVID-19 stimulus that passed in March. It’s time to look at ending this, not on September 6th, as it’s currently slated to end, but now, while the economy is strong and growing, while we’re trying to get people back to work. As I said, it’s a rational economic decision for many people right now to collect an unemployment check that effectively pays you upwards of $15 an hour to stay at home and not work, but makes no sense to keep the supplement in place as we are reopening and the focus is on shifting toward getting the economy back up and running.

“My own preference is that some of this fund be used to pay people a bonus to go back to work. I know that’s controversial on my side of the aisle. But I’ll tell you, I think it works. Montana is doing it. It’s working for them. How about $100 a week instead of the $300 supplement? $100 a week for six weeks as a return to work bonus. To me, that makes a lot of sense. That would be something I think we could get some bipartisan support for around here. And that would help the workers, the small businesses, and our economy.

“Through these two steps, we can undo the disincentive to work that was a by-product of our response to an unprecedented pandemic, we can stop that disincentive to work. Now that we are beating COVID-19, we should focus on getting back to normal. I urge the Biden administration to focus on getting the economy back up and running and getting folks off the sidelines and back to work.”

#

Murkowski, Sullivan Successful in Push to Provide Economic Recovery Opportunity for Small Business Owners and Alaskan Communities

Source: United States Senator for Alaska Lisa Murkowski

05.13.21

Alaska Tourism Restoration Act Passes the Senate, Alaska is One Step Closer to Resuming Cruise Ship Operations

This afternoon the U.S. Senate passed S. 593, the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act (ATRA), legislation sponsored by U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK). The bill provides a way for cruise ships to bring passengers to Alaska, despite the Canadian prohibition on passenger vessels traveling through Canadian waters en route to Alaska. It will give Alaskans, small business owners, and Alaska’s statewide economy an opportunity to have some semblance of a tourist season. Both Senators spoke on the Senate floor right after the legislation passed to urge the House to swiftly pass the bill in order to prevent Alaskan communities from losing out on another tourism season. U.S. Congressman Don Young (R-AK) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives. 

This legislation comes in response to Canada’s Interim Order No. 5 Respecting Passenger Vessel Restrictions Due to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) which bans pleasure craft in Canadian Arctic waters and cruise vessels in all Canadian waters until February 28, 2022. The ATRA works to provide economic opportunity for communities who rely on tourism by temporarily alleviating Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA) restrictions—for as long as the Canadian ban is in place—for large cruise ships transporting passengers between the State of Washington and the State of Alaska. The fix is essential to allowing cruise ships to sail to Alaska without requiring they stop in Canada, as U.S. law would normally require.

“The Alaska Delegation has been working every angle to help find a path forward for struggling Alaskans who rely on the tourism industry. Senate passage of my legislation sends a strong signal that we will not stand idly by, withering on the vine, until another country catches up to our level of readiness. This shows that the health and restoration of our economy cannot be held up by Canada, especially since Alaska has led with vaccinations in the country and our communities are ready to welcome visitors back,” said Senator Murkowski. “Unanimous agreement in the Senate on this bill provides certainty and opportunity for cruise companies to resume sailing to Alaska, as they have for so many years—and more importantly, helps safeguard the livelihoods of Alaskan-owned small businesses, and entire communities, that serve these cruise passengers. I thank Senators Cantwell, Wicker, Blumenthal, and Lee for coming to the table and working with us on a path forward and all my Senate colleagues for recognizing the urgency of this situation for Alaskans. Our hope is that the House will now promptly follow suit.”

CLICK HERE to watch video.

“I want to thank Senator Murkowski for her work and my colleagues in the Senate for coming together today to give the thousands of Alaskans in the tourism sector a fighting chance at salvaging our 2021 summer cruise ship season,” said Senator Sullivan. “The passage of the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act today is an example of the U.S. Senate working at its best. This is an important step forward, but we still have more work to do. Congressman Don Young, the dean of the House and a great advocate for Alaska, will be working with his colleagues to quickly get the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act through the House. And, we’re continuing to work around the clock with CDC leaders to finally issue workable guidance that allows the cruise lines and coastal communities to safely welcome visitors again. Given the CDC’s much-awaited loosening of mask guidelines today for vaccinated Americans, I am hopeful we will see progress on this front as well.”

CLICK HERE to watch video.

Background:

  • On May 11, Senators Murkowski and Sullivan wrote letters urging Canada to reconsider the prohibition for passenger vessels in Canada’s ports and waters, and calling on the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to accept technical stops in Canada to satisfy the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA), which currently restricts cruise ships transportation passengers between the State of Washington and the State of Alaska.
  • On April 30, Senators Murkowski and Sullivan spoke on the Senate floor urging their Senate colleagues to consider and pass S. 593, the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act (ATRA)
  • On March 26, the Alaska Congressional Delegation sent a letter with colleagues to Jeffrey Zients, the White House COVID Response Coordinator, urging the Biden administration to be more transparent and timely in their efforts to develop guidance for the resumption of operations for the cruise ship industry.
  • On March 19, both Senators met in person with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Anchorage, AK and discussed Canada’s border closures and sent a follow up letter on  March 24, reiterating and emphasizing the need to work together to address Canada’s border closures.
  • On March 5, Senators Murkowski and Sullivan introduced the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act to alleviate the PVSA restrictions for cruise ships transporting passengers between the State of Washington and the State of Alaska.
  • On February 24, Congressman Don Young introduced the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act in the House of Representatives.
  • On February 13, Senators Murkowski and Sullivan and Congressman Don Young (R-AK) penned a letter to Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, urging him to work with the Alaska Congressional Delegation on COVID-19 travel restrictions in an effort to limit the negative impacts to Alaskan and Canadian constituents.
  • On February 4, the Alaska Congressional Delegation reacted to an announcement by the Canadian Minister of Transport regarding two new Interim Orders which ban pleasure craft in Canadian Arctic waters and cruise vessels in all Canadian waters until February 28, 2022.
  • In October 2020, in an effort to address US-Canada border crossing issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Senators Murkowski, Sullivan, Congressman Young, and Governor Mike Dunleavy (R-AK) sent a letter to Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to raise specific issues severely impacting Alaskans due to border crossing restrictions due to COVID-1. In their letter, the Alaska Delegation highlighted specific, persisting challenges impacting the health and safety of Alaskans and proposed reasonable solutions.


Following Push From Cortez Masto, DOJ Releases $40 Million to Nevada Victims & Survivors

Source: United States Senator for Nevada Cortez Masto

May 13, 2021

Washington, D.C. – After weeks of delays, U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto announced that $39.8 million in federal funding will be coming to Nevada from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to support victims of crimes. Cortez Masto secured this funding through recent appropriations bills, but disbursement has been held up since the beginning of April. These federal grants include $7.9 million in Antiterrorism and Emergency Assistance Program (AEAP) funding to assist with the ongoing Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting recovery, as well as $29.6 million in VOCA Victim Assistance funding from FY18 and FY20 that had not been released to the state, which will provide support services and resources for victims of crimes like sexual assault and domestic violence. Senator Cortez Masto’s office has been working behind the scenes to advocate for the immediate release of these funds, which were made available to the state this week.

“I’m very pleased to announce that the Department of Justice is heeding my call and releasing these federal dollars I secured for our nonprofit service providers and the crime victims they serve. This federal funding will help us provide Route 91 survivors with the support they need to heal and provide victim compensation and resources to Nevadans who have experienced crimes such as domestic violence and sexual assault. Protecting Nevadans has been my top priority ever since my time as Attorney General, and I will continue to make sure that survivors in our state get the help they deserve from our federal government.”

The DOJ funding announced by Senator Cortez Masto includes:

  • $7,938,571 in FY19 AEAP funding
  • $2,252,000 in FY20 VOCA Compensation funding
  • $13,901,390 in FY18 VOCA Victim Assistance funding
  • $15,732,749 in FY20 VOCA Victim Assistance funding

###



Senator Stabenow Statement on Escalating Violence in Israel

Source: United States Senator for Michigan Debbie Stabenow

Thursday, May 13, 2021



WASHINGTON—Senator Debbie Stabenow today released the following statement regarding the escalating violence in Israel:

“What is happening on the ground in Jerusalem, Gaza, and throughout Israel is horrifying. Leaders in the region and in the United States must appeal for calm and call for a ceasefire for the sake of Israeli and Palestinian civilians and families who are caught in the crossfire.  

“These events cannot be seen in a vacuum. Indiscriminate rocket fire from Hamas into Israel is intolerable and fuels this cycle of violence. The scenes of devastation in Gaza are heartbreaking. The heavy-handed police tactics against worshippers at the Al Aqsa mosque in the closing days of Ramadan and the tensions surrounding the evictions of Palestinian families only escalate an already frayed and volatile situation.  

“Families across Michigan fear for the safety of their loved ones. I urge the Biden Administration to gather a complete assessment, brief Congress, and work with international partners to deescalate this conflict, protect civilians, and defend human rights.”

###


Romney Joins Colleagues in Urging POTUS to Stand with Israel and to Not Provide Iran with Sanctions Relief

Source: United States Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT)

Romney Joins Colleagues in Urging POTUS to Stand with Israel and to Not Provide Iran with Sanctions Relief

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) joined 43 Republican colleagues, led by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), in urging President Joe Biden to stand with our closest ally in the region, Israel. As Israel is under attack from Iranian-back terrorists, the Biden Administration is negotiating and potentially offering sanctions relief to Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. The Senators called on President Biden to immediately end negotiations with Iran, and make clear that sanctions relief will not be provided. The Senators also highlighted that “[t]he United States engaging in active negotiations with Iran and potentially providing billions of dollars in sanctions relief will no doubt contribute to Iran’s support of Hamas and other terrorist organizations who attack Americans and our allies.” 

“Over the past couple days, Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, who are funded by Iran, have launched a series of rocket attacks into Israel,” wrote the senators. “They are targeting Israeli civilians and cities, including Israel’s capital Jerusalem. This is troubling as members of your administration are currently in Vienna negotiating with Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.”

“The United States must not do anything to enrich Israel’s enemies, such as by offering sanctions relief to a regime that seeks to destroy Israel,” continued the senators. “As a longtime friend of the Jewish state, we also urge you to unequivocally support Israel’s right to defend itself against any and all terrorist attacks.”

Joining Romney and Rubio was Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-ID), Senate Committee on Banking Ranking Member Pat Toomey (R-PA), Senate Committee on Armed Services Ranking Member Jim Inhofe (R-OK), and SFRC Middle East Subcommittee Ranking Member Todd Young (R-IN), as well as Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), James Lankford (R-OK), Steve Daines (R-MT), Josh Hawley (R-MO), John Barrasso (R-WY), Ron Johnson (R-WI), John Boozman (R-AR), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Rick Scott (R-FL), Mike  Braun (R-IN), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Tim Scott (R-SC), Roger Wicker (R-MS), John Thune (R-SD), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), Ted Cruz (R-TX), John Hoeven (R-ND), John Kennedy (R-LA), Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Mike  Lee (R-UT), Richard Burr (R-NC), Bill  Cassidy (R-LA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa  Murkowski (R-AK), and Rob Portman (R-OH).

The full text of the letter is below. 

Dear Mr. President: 

We write with regard to the ongoing rocket attacks against Israel by the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas. Over the past couple days, Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, who are funded by Iran, have launched a series of rocket attacks into Israel. They are targeting Israeli civilians and cities, including Israel’s capital Jerusalem. This is troubling as members of your administration are currently in Vienna negotiating with Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. In light of these recent attacks by Hamas against Israel, the United States should take all steps necessary to hold Tehran accountable and under no circumstances, provide sanctions relief to Iran. This is especially important as Iran is supporting terrorist activity against the United States’ closest ally in the region, Israel. 

As you know, Palestinian terrorist groups launched more than 1,000 rockets targeting Israel over the last few days alone. This includes the first rockets aimed at Jerusalem since 2014. While the United States and countries around the world condemned these rocket attacks, Iran resoundingly supports this aggression.  Shortly after the attacks began, and as they continued, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted that Palestinians should unite to “use the tools of their disposal” to attack Israel, which he recently called not a nation, but a “terrorist garrison.” Even the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, who currently is supervising Iran’s negotiating team in Vienna, called Hamas’ leader Ismail Haniyeh to express Iran’s support for the group’s actions.   

The United States designated Hamas as a terrorist organization in 1997 and as such, is prohibited from providing any funds to Hamas. Iran, however, is a longtime financial and material supporter of Hamas. The United States engaging in active negotiations with Iran and potentially providing billions of dollars in sanctions relief will no doubt contribute to Iran’s support of Hamas and other terrorist organizations who attack Americans and our allies. We call on you to immediately end negotiations with Iran, and make clear that sanctions relief will not be provided. Doing so would demonstrate a firm commitment to our closest ally in the region and to our own security interests. 

The United States must not do anything to enrich Israel’s enemies, such as by offering sanctions relief to a regime that seeks to destroy Israel. As a longtime friend of the Jewish state, we also urge you to unequivocally support Israel’s right to defend itself against any and all terrorist attacks. 

Respectfully,

Rubio Joins Colleagues in Filing Amicus Brief to Protect Unborn Babies With Down Syndrome

Source: United States Senator for Florida Marco Rubio

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Tom Cotton (R-AR), including Representative Ashley Hinson (R-IA), and colleagues filed an amicus brief in Little Rock Planning Services v. Rutledge urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Arkansas’s law banning elective abortions on unborn babies solely due to a Down syndrome diagnosis. For full text of the brief, click here
 
Other supporters of the brief include 65 members from the House of Representatives and Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Mike Braun (R-IN), John Boozman (R-AR), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Steve Daines (R-MT), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), John Kennedy (R-LA), James Lankford (R-OK), Mike Lee (R-UT), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Rob Portman (R-OH), Jim Risch (R-ID), and John Thune (R-SD).
 
“The right to life is the most fundamental and sacred of all human rights, and it is unconscionable that some would deny an unborn baby that right because of a Down syndrome diagnosis,” Rubio said. “Every single human being – regardless of their chromosome count – is entitled to the protection of our laws from the very moment of conception.”
 
“Our society has an obligation to protect the most vulnerable, including unborn babies with disabilities,” Cotton said. “Arkansas’ law seeks to protect babies with Down syndrome from modern-day eugenicists who want to end their lives, simply because of their disability. We stand with Arkansas and the unborn, and we will fight to uphold this law at the Supreme Court.” 
 
Background:
 

  •  Rutledge v. Little Rock Family Planning Services involves a 2019 Arkansas law that prohibits medical providers from performing abortions if the sole reason for the abortion is a prenatal test indicating that the fetus has Down syndrome.
  • A district court blocked the law from taking effect, and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit – relying on Roberts’ concurrence in June Medical– affirmed that ruling in January.
  • Two judges on the panel wrote separately to say they regret the outcome even though they believe binding precedent requires it.
  • Arkansas has filed a petition for review with the U.S. Supreme Court.

 
On January 28, 2021, Rubio joined Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and their colleagues in reintroducing the Protecting Individuals with Down Syndrome Act which would ban a doctor from performing an abortion being sought because the unborn child has Down syndrome.

Menendez, Booker, Casey Introduce Bill to Boost State Health Care Marketplaces, Expand Coverage

Source: United States Senator for New Jersey Bob Menendez

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-N.J.), and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) today introduced legislation that would provide federal funding to support states that have either established their own state-based health exchange in the past two years or are looking to establish their own exchange. Moving from the federal marketplace system gives states flexibility to expand coverage options, increase enrollment and lower health costs for consumers.

 

“New Jersey did the right thing by its residents by taking the initiative and creating a state-based health exchange to expand access to health care for individuals and families,” said Sen. Menendez. “This bill will help support states, like New Jersey, that have recently transitioned to state-based health exchanges and pave a pathway for other states wishing to switch from the federal marketplace to better serve their residents. This will inevitably expand health insurance coverage, increase options for consumers and bring down the costs of care.”

 

“By transitioning to a state-based health exchange, New Jersey has been able to put the needs of our state’s residents first and make health coverage even more affordable and accessible, which has been critical during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sen. Booker. “This bill will not only help New Jersey with its transition to a state-based health exchange, but it will also help any other state looking to do the same.”

 

“This legislation will help states establish their own health insurance marketplaces, like Pennsylvania recently did with Pennie,” said Sen. Casey. “When states set up their own marketplace they can expand coverage and give consumers more options. The federal government should be by their side supporting them, and with this legislation, that’s the way it will be.”

 

The State Allowance for a Variety of Exchanges (SAVE) Act would reimburse states for costs associated with establishing their own marketplace. 

 

Specifically, the SAVE Act:

 

·         Allows states that have transitioned to their own state-based health exchange after January 1, 2019 to be reimbursed for costs associated with the transition

 

·         Authorizes $200 million in competitive federal grant funding to help alleviate a state’s financial burden during the transition from a federal to a state-based health exchange

 

·         Gives states greater control and flexibility to regulate plans; control enrollment period, user fees and consumer assistance; and greater ability to attract people to sign up for coverage via targeted advertising

 

According to a 2019 Urban Institute report, states that built and ran their own health care marketplaces save money and have greater autonomy and flexibility in providing insurance options to residents. That greater control allowed Governor Phil Murphy to extend open enrollment to help New Jerseyans get health coverage during the pandemic, especially the unemployed who lost their employer-based health insurance.

 

“Health care is a right, and we must ensure access to quality, affordable health coverage,” said Gov. Murphy. “In New Jersey, we are proud to have launched a state health insurance marketplace, Get Covered NJ. This health insurance marketplace has helped make coverage more affordable for hundreds of thousands of eligible residents. I thank Senators Menendez, Booker, and Casey for their support of New Jersey and other states that have worked proactively to improve health coverage access through individual health care marketplaces.”

 

Prior to New Jersey’s transition in 2019 to a state-based marketplace, the ability for New Jerseyans to access affordable health care was subject to decisions made by the federal government, including efforts by the Trump Administration to undermine enrollment by cutting funding for advertising by 90% and reducing the open enrollment period from three months to six weeks. 

 

Congressman Andy Kim (N.J.-03) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives earlier this year.

 

“Having access to affordable, quality health care is more important now than it ever has been, and the SAVE Act will help more states create the state-based solutions that achieve those goals,” said Rep. Kim. “We know that these programs work. It’s why a million Americans signed up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act during the past three months. Now we have to keep moving forward to improve and expand these programs. This bill is a bipartisan, common-sense way to achieve exactly that.”

 

A copy of the bill can be found here

HYDE-SMITH ANNOUNCES $25 MILLION USDA ACTION TO BOOST SHRIMP INDUSTRY

Source: United States Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss)

HYDE-SMITH ANNOUNCES $25 MILLION USDA ACTION TO BOOST SHRIMP INDUSTRY
 
USDA Commits to Purchase of Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Wild-Caught Shrimp

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) today welcomed a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) commitment to purchase an additional $25 million in wild-caught shrimp that should benefit the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The USDA on Thursday announced the purchase of Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic wild-caught shrimp through its Section 32 Program for distribution to food banks and other nonprofit nutrition programs.  The Gulf Coast is a leading source of the shrimp caught for domestic consumption.

“The guaranteed purchase of Gulf shrimp will help support an industry that has been under added stress because of supply chain disruptions over the past year.  I hope this action by the U.S. Department of Agriculture will boost Mississippi shrimpers and processors as our economy gets back on track,” said Hyde-Smith, who serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

The $25 million shrimp purchase is authorized under Section 32 of the Agriculture Act of 1935.  Section 32 purchases support a broad variety of U.S. agriculture producers and provide USDA Food and Nutrition Service nutrition assistance programs with commodities for distribution.

Last year, Mississippi agriculture benefitted from the first-time USDA Section 32 Program shrimp purchase.  The program has also been used to purchase farm-raised catfish for nutrition assistance programs.

The shrimp buy is part of an overall $159.4 million Section 32 purchase of domestically produced seafood, fruits, legumes, and nuts for distribution to a variety of domestic food assistance programs, including charitable institutions.

###