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Weekly Updates

Wittman’s Weekly: The Path Forward

Growing up, one of the fondest memories I have is seeing my mother work the polls on Election Day. I don’t think she ever missed an election. She worked on behalf of candidates who shared the same dreams she held. Candidates who believed in keeping our communities and neighborhoods safe. Candidates who believed American ingenuity could produce a booming economy. Candidates who believed every person could obtain the American Dream.

Thinking back to those times when she worked at the polling station, I am so glad I was able to see her in action. I not only was able to see democracy in action, but seeing her commitment and dedication to our electoral process helped shape my lifelong beliefs and how I legislate in Congress.

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted every facet of our lives. While we are still learning more about the virus every day – and I admit there is much more to be learned – I do know we must renew, restore and rebuild our way of life. We cannot move backwards; we must look ahead. Here are a few actions I have been working on to help keep us on the right path to success:

Expanding access to rural broadband will renew the American Dream.

This year, the pandemic laid bare the importance of access to quality internet. That is why I introduced the Serving Rural America Act to create a pilot grant program at the FCC authorizing $500 million over five years to expand broadband service to unserved areas of the country. Under the act, grants would be awarded to eligible applicants that would consist of a partnership between an internet service provider and a locality—such as a county or planning district commission. 

I also penned letters to President Trump and Congressional Leadership, asking for robust funding in the CARES Act for rural broadband, remote learning, and telehealth.

helped to draft the Broadband DATA Act, which was signed into law this past March, to create an improved National Broadband Map that is significantly more accurate. This allows federal broadband funds to be better directed to areas that need it the most through clear, commonsense mapping practices that brings service to the underserved.

And lastly, I am a cosponsor of the MAPS Act, which would make it unlawful for internet service providers to willfully, knowingly, or recklessly submit inaccurate coverage or quality of service information to the Federal Communications Commission.

Focusing on reopening safely and securely will restore our way of life.

As we move towards life going back to normal – or toward our “new normal”, as I like to call it – it is vitally important that we all work to keep our family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances safe. We all have a role to play. Health experts advise that we follow proper social distancing guidelines like wearing a mask, washing your hands often, and avoiding close contact with anyone who lives outside your home, as much as possible. But there are also actions we can take in Congress to ensure we reopen safely.

Recently, I sent a letter to Congressional Leadership urging the inclusion of temporary and targeted liability protections for academic institutions, administration, and teachers related to the COVID-19 pandemic in the upcoming coronavirus relief package. We must balance the educational needs of our children with the health and safety of our students, teachers, administrators, and families. In order to accomplish this, school board members, superintendents, administrators and teachers need to have the confidence that they will not face legal repercussions if they adhere to the proper precautions. Additionally, I cosponsored H.R. 7710, the Open Schools Responsibly Act, sponsored by Rep. Greg Murphy (NC-03) to provide academic institutions protections from lawsuits stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. I have long believed that our education system serves our children best when the federal footprint is reduced, and local control is restored. I believe localities will need to make the best decisions for their residents based on the most up-to-date and accurate data metrics in their districts, and the state and federal governments should be there to provide assistance as requested to get children back to school as quickly and as safely as possible.

I also sent a letter urging the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to extend the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) until January 1, 2021, for eligible school food authorities. The SFSP provides kids and teens in low-income areas much-needed free meals when students do not physically attend school. I wrote this letter on behalf of all students in Virginia’s First Congressional District (VA-01) who depend on free and reduced school meal programs to ensure they receive meals throughout school closures and distance-learning programs related to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. With most school districts in VA-01 opting for completely virtual learning or a hybrid of virtual and in-person instruction, it is critical that we ensure no student goes hungry or fears when and where they will get their next meal. During this public health emergency, the last thing Virginia students need is to worry about when and where they are going to get their next meal.

I am beyond appreciative of the commitment and sacrifice our nation's educators make daily; their dedication does not go unrecognized. Now, more than ever, we must support our educators as they teach our children. We must support our schools as they aim to reopen as soon as possible, but only when they are able to do so safely.

In addition to supporting schools as they plan to safely reopen, last month, I wrote a letter to Congressional Leadership requesting greater flexibility for families utilizing Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA). It urges leadership to let families using FSAs to withdraw or rollover these funds, which otherwise could be lost at the end of the year. This will allow families to better manage their finances and care for their children during these difficult times. 

I also joined a group of 41 colleagues in signing a letter that encourages Congress to provide additional federal relief for child care providers as lawmakers weigh additional COVID-19 relief legislation. In this letter, my colleagues and I reemphasized the importance of supporting childcare providers in the next relief package to ensure that when Americans are back at work, childcare providers are equipped to rejoin the workforce as well. 

Reopening the economy will get us on the path to rebuilding the greatest economy ever.

The American economy gained 1.8 million jobs in July, but the increase reported by the Labor Department does not get us back to the 3.5% unemployment rate – the lowest unemployment rate in decades – we had in February before the pandemic hit. In order to reopen the economy back up, we need to support our small businesses and prepare potential employees to fill jobs as they become available.

During COVID-19 recovery, I have been leading the effort to get dollars to Virginia that support innovation and prepare our nation for the future. For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a $354 million, four-year contract with Phlow Corp., located in Richmond, Virginia, that would create the nation’s first strategic stockpile of key ingredients needed to make medicines. In March, I called Vice President Pence and his team to advocate for this project and I am thrilled HHS chose them to provide U.S.-based manufacturing capabilities of essential generic medicines, active pharmaceutical ingredients, and chemical precursor materials.

I also supported the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), providing support to American workers, families, and businesses, including the expansion of paid sick leave and family medical leave. It included refundable tax credits for small businesses and self-employed individuals to cover the cost of the leave.  

In addition, Congress passed a $2 trillion COVID-19 economic relief package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (The CARES Act) with overwhelming bipartisan support.

A strong economy is good for all Virginians. We must continue to incentivize rehiring, remove regulatory barriers to job creation, and return our supply chain back from China. As the economy opens back up, it is important that we are supporting our workers and our families to succeed.

At the end of the day, as I’m driving home from Washington, DC after representing your voice in Congress, I think back to the days I spent seeing my mom work the polls on Election Day. I believe she would be proud of the way I’ve voted to help renew, restore and reopen the American economy. I hope you are too.