Rob’s Rundown: Week of December 2 – December 6, 2019

December 6, 2019 | Rob's Rundown

This week, Senator Portman delivered remarks on the Senate floor highlighting the economic benefits of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) Trade Agreement, which will strengthen our economy and support American workers, farmers, and manufacturers. Portman supports the more modern USMCA to the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in part because it includes new and enforceable environmental and labor standards, a new section on digital trade, expanded opportunities for agricultural trade, and new opportunities for auto jobs in America. Portman called on Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats to vote on the USMCA and send it over to the Senate for passage.

In addition, Portman paid tribute to the career and achievements of U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), who is retiring from the Senate at the end of this year. Portman serves on the Senate Finance Committee with Isakson and has worked closely with him on energy efficiency, tax reform, national security, and retirement security issues, among others.  They also served together in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Today in Columbus, Portman toured Eastland Fairfield Career Center. Following the tour, Portman met with the school’s leadership to discuss expanding access to workforce skills training and how his bipartisan JOBS Act legislation will help more Ohioans get the skills and training they need to find in-demand jobs. In Zanesville, Portman met with board members of Muskingum County’s Restored Citizens Network who last year received a $475,953 grant through Portman’s bipartisan Second Chance Act, a law that is working to help people exiting the prison system rebuild their lives by getting the mental health treatment and skills training they need to reenter the workforce. This funding will go towards ForeverDads, an organization that designs and manages programming to encourage, educate, and equip men to develop positive relationships with their children, family, and community.

Finally, Portman participated in Save A Warrior’s cohort graduation ceremony this afternoon. Established in 2012, the Save A Warrior week-long "War Detox" program specializes in connecting active duty military, returning veterans, and first responders experiencing psychological trauma such as post-traumatic stress disorder and helping them heal. 

For a more detailed look at Senator Portman’s week, please see the following: 

Monday, December 2, 2019

Portman, Coons, Braun, Bennet Lead Bipartisan Letter to USTR Regarding China’s Corporate Social Credit System

Senators Portman, Chris Coons (D-DE), Mike Braun (R-IN), and Michael Bennet (D-CO) joined 21 of their colleagues in sending United States Trade Representative (USTR) Ambassador Robert Lighthizer a letter outlining their concerns with the Chinese government’s efforts to develop and deploy its Corporate Social Credit System (Corporate SCS). The Corporate SCS represents China formalizing a system to punish American companies and workers for speaking out against the Chinese government. The letter asks Ambassador Lighthizer to prioritize research and analysis into the Corporate SCS and the implications such a system may pose for American workers, companies, and investors.

“The inequities and imbalances in our trade relationship with China are well-known,” said Senator Portman. “China’s proposed corporate social credit system will only perpetuate those inequities and imbalances by using state-backed economic power to bend American companies, including their employees, to Beijing’s will. What we saw recently with respect to the NBA is not an anomaly, which is why our government needs to treat the impacts of the corporate social credit system as a priority.”

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Portman, Brown Introduce Legislation to Extend Funding for Dayton’s National Aviation Heritage Area

Senators Portman and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) have introduced legislation, S. 2940, to reauthorize funding for Dayton’s National Aviation Heritage Area (NAHA) through FY2022. NAHA spans eight counties throughout western Ohio, with a large presence in Dayton, the home of the Wright Brothers. There are a variety of cultural sites within the NAHA, including the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Park, Armstrong Air and Space Museum, Huffman Prairie Flying Field, and Grimes Flying Field, as well as resources related to the Wright Brothers.

“The National Aviation Heritage Area in Dayton is home to our nation’s aviation history and I am proud to introduce this legislation to help ensure it is preserved and enjoyed by future generations,” said Portman. “It tells the story of the Wright Brothers’ development of the first airplane, which has led to a strong aviation industry in the region today. This site is a public-private partnership that has also generated economic growth in the region. It supports 1,500 jobs and generates $35 million in economic impact from the more than two million visitors per year. I look forward to working with Senator Brown and our colleagues to pass this important legislation.”

Portman Applauds U.S. Department of Commerce’s $1.6 Million Grant to Boost Job Creation and Economic Growth in Youngstown

Portman applauds the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) for awarding a $1.6 million grant to the Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corporation (MVEDC) of Youngstown, Ohio, to establish a new Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) in support of small businesses and entrepreneurs. According to the EDA, the grant, to be located near a designated Opportunity Zone, will be matched with $400,000 in local funds and is expected to help create 200 jobs, retain 55 jobs, and generate $9 million in private investment.

“I applaud the Department of Commerce for awarding the Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corporation a $1.6 million grant to help establish the Economically Disadvantage Growing Entrepreneurs fund,” said Portman. “This fund will help diversify the economy in Mahoning and Trumbull Counties by helping local businesses thrive. Not only will this fund help create and train employment opportunities for the Mahoning Valley, but it also targets opportunity zones and new market tax credit investments — both of which I worked hard to get included and passed in tax reform.” 

At Hearing, State Department Officials Agree with Portman on Providing Continued Aid to Ukraine & Increased Funding for GEC

During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on United States strategy towards Russia, Portman questioned experts from the State Department about the importance of continuing aid to Ukraine so that they can defend themselves against Russian aggression. Portman has led efforts in the Senate to provide additional security assistance to Ukraine.  For the past three years, he has worked on a bipartisan basis to expand U.S. lethal military aid to Ukraine in the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). These provisions helped build the primary statutory framework for U.S. security assistance to Ukraine, the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.

Portman also heard from the Under Secretary of State, David Hale, about the importance of increasing funding for the Global Engagement Center (GEC), which was tasked with leading U.S. government efforts to counter propaganda and disinformation from countries like Russia and China through legislation that Portman and Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) wrote and successfully passed in 2016. 

Excerpts of his questioning can be found here and a video can be found here.

On Senate Floor, Portman Pays Tribute to the Career of Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson

On the Senate floor, Portman paid tribute to the career and achievements of U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), who is retiring from the Senate at the end of this year.  Isakson is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and Senate Select Committee on Ethics.  Portman serves on the Senate Finance Committee with Isakson and has worked closely with him on energy efficiency, tax reform, national security, and retirement security issues, among others.  They also served together in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Portman Urges FCC Chairman Pai to Encourage Broadband Deployment in Appalachian Ohio

Portman sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai urging him to modify the new Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) to encourage deployment of broadband internet in Appalachia. Broadband providers in Appalachian Ohio are concerned that the current structure of RDOF dis-incentivizes internet deployment in that region of the country. More than one million Ohioans still lack access to fast, reliable broadband in their homes. Senator Portman has introduced the Revitalizing Underdeveloped Rural Areas and Lands (RURAL) Act to preserve jobs and encourage infrastructure development by expanding tax-exempt cooperative organizations’ access to government grants and assistance, including rural broadband grants and FEMA disaster relief. 

“Appalachian Ohio is a uniquely unserved part of our nation. Broadband maps often overstate coverage, and a mix of low population density and mountainous terrain make internet build out expensive. The losers from this unfortunate combination of policy and topography are our constituents who, in an increasingly internet-enabled society, are being left behind. The RDOF should ensure that the handful of constituents in difficult to reach locations are not sacrificed by a simple cost-benefit analysis without more consideration of how to include them in the lifeline of the modern economy,” Portman said in the letter. “One way to do this would be to structure auction conditions to ensure bidders prioritize deployment to difficult to reach locations. I understand the high cost of serving some of these individuals, but believe they should not be written out of the conversation.”  

The letter is available here.

Portman on Senate Floor: “A Vote Against USMCA is a Vote for the Status Quo”

On the Senate floor, Portman highlighted the economic benefits of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) Trade Agreement, which will strengthen our economy and support American workers, farmers, and manufacturers. Portman supports the more modern USMCA to the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in part because it includes new and enforceable environmental and labor standards, a new section on digital trade, expanded opportunities for agricultural trade, and new opportunities for auto jobs in America. Portman called on Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats to vote on the USMCA and send it over to the Senate for passage.

“I’m on the floor today to urge the United States Congress to do the right thing, and that is to allow a vote on this new agreement between Mexico and Canada and the United States. Unbelievably, this agreement was negotiated a year ago. They signed it at the end of November last year, and yet for a year now, Congress has refused to take it up,” Portman states. “A vote for the USMCA, quite simply, is a vote for improved market access, more U.S. manufacturing, a more level playing field for American workers, farmers, and service providers. A vote against USMCA, and blocking it from coming to the floor, is a vote to keep NAFTA. It’s as simple as that. A vote against USMCA is a vote for the status quo, which is NAFTA.”

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

Portman, Brown Applaud Senate Confirmation of Douglas R. Cole for U.S. Federal District Court Judge for the Southern District

Senators Portman and Brown applauded Senate confirmation of Douglas R. Cole to serve as U.S. Federal District Court Judge for the Southern District of Ohio. The vacancy was created when Judge Susan J. Dlott took senior status on May 31, 2018. The Southern District has court locations in Cincinnati, Columbus, and Dayton and serves more than five million Ohioans in 48 counties.   

“I applaud the Senate for confirming Doug Cole to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio,” said Portman. “Mr. Cole is one of the most experienced and well-respected litigators in Ohio.  His record of success in private practice and his service to Ohio during his time as the State’s Solicitor General make him an excellent choice for this position.  He will make Ohio proud in this new role.”   

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Portman Statement on General Motors and LG Chem Plan for New Battery Plant in Lordstown Area

Portman released the following statement on the announcement of General Motors and LG Chem’s plan for a new battery plant in the Lordstown area: 

“Since GM first announced it would discontinue production of the Chevy Cruze, I have pushed hard for the company to do the right thing and stand by the world-class workforce in Lordstown. I applaud GM’s announcement that it will build a new battery plant in the Mahoning Valley to provide employment to some of the talented workers in the region.  While I remain disappointed that GM chose not to reinvest in its Lordstown auto assembly plant, I’m hopeful this new investment will be the beginning of a sustained, long-term commitment to the region that will continue to grow over time. I will continue to work with community leaders to do whatever I can to return the Lordstown plant to its full potential.”

New Video Highlights Portman’s Bipartisan PSI Report on China’s Talent Recruitment Plans

Last month, Senator Portman, Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), unveiled a new bipartisan report that documents how American taxpayers have been unwittingly funding the rise of China’s economy and military over the last two decades while federal agencies have done little to stop it. Portman then delivered opening remarks at a bipartisan hearing entitled “Securing the U.S. Research Enterprise from China’s Talent Recruitment Plans.” During the hearing, Assistant Director of the Counterintelligence Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) John Brown confirmed that the FBI should have taken more rapid and comprehensive action in addressing China’s strategic plan to acquire knowledge and intellectual property from researchers, scientists, and the U.S. private sector through their talent recruitment programs. On the Senate floor, Portman discussed the findings of the report and how the U.S. must do more to stop the theft of taxpayer-funded research & intellectual property.

A video highlighting the findings of the PSI report can be found here.

New Study Shows Portman’s CARA Law Led to 111 Percent Increase in Medication-Assisted Treatment Available for Opioid Crisis in Rural Areas

A new study published in the journal Health Affairs showed that Portman’s bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction & Recovery Act (CARA), which became law in 2016, has led to a 111 percent increase in the availability in rural areas of prescriptions of buprenorphine, a form of medication-assisted treatment for those suffering from opioid addiction. CARA granted physician assistants and nurse practitioners the ability to obtain federal waivers to prescribe buprenorphine.  From 2016 to 2019 the number of waivered clinicians per 100,000 population in rural areas increased by 111 percent. Physician assistants and nurse practitioners represented more than half the increase according to the study. Portman released the following statement:

“In order to address the drug addiction epidemic gripping our country, we need as many qualified providers as possible to treat patients who are struggling with addiction. That’s why I included the provision to ensure that physician assistants and nurse practitioners have the ability to obtain federal waivers to prescribe buprenorphine in my bipartisan CARA law in 2016. I’m pleased to see this data showing that there has been a 111 percent increase in those able to prescribe medication-assisted treatment for those suffering from opioid addiction in rural areas since my law was implemented because I believe this effort will help save lives.  Our communities are in crisis right now as more and more Ohioans of every age suffer from addiction. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Senate to make sure those on the ground, our community leaders, first responders, and family members, have the support and funding they need to continue their work to fight this epidemic.”

Friday, December 6, 2019

Portman & Bipartisan Colleagues Urge Education Department IG to Investigate Loan Forgiveness Process Following Alarming NPR Report

Portman led a bipartisan group of lawmakers in sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Education urging the department’s acting inspector general, Sandra Bruce, to investigate the federal student loan discharge process for Americans with total and permanent disabilities (TPD). The Members’ letter comes after an alarming report from National Public Radio (NPR), aired earlier this week, that found that hundreds of thousands of Americans with qualifying disabilities have not received the student loan relief they are entitled to by law. In addition to Senator Portman, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Chris Coons (D-DE), Susan Collins (R-ME), Angus King (I-ME), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) along with U.S. Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Ron Kind (D-WI), Don Young (R-AK), and Jim Langevin (D-RI).  

“We are alarmed by the findings in this NPR investigation, the reported extremely low rate of loan discharges for eligible borrowers, and the contrast between the NPR report and the information previously provided by ED,” the Members wrote. “We are also concerned by ED’s lack of transparency with Congress and failure to provide timely, verifiable information. Most importantly, it appears that ED’s process for TPD loan discharges is failing to provide student loan relief to hundreds of thousands of Americans, including veterans, who are entitled to this relief under the law.” 

The letter is available here.

 

In Groveport, Portman Tours Eastland Fairfield Career Center and Hosts Workforce Discussion

Portman toured Eastland Fairfield Career Center. Following the tour, Portman met with the school’s leadership to discuss expanding access to workforce skills training and how his bipartisan JOBS Act legislation will help more Ohioans get the skills and training they need to find in-demand jobs.

“I enjoyed my visit at Fairfield Career Center and the productive discussion with the school’s leadership team as well as with local business leaders about how best to ensure Ohio’s workers get the skills training they need to succeed in the jobs available today,” said PortmanPassing the JOBS Act will help ensure we make skills training more accessible and affordable. I will continue my work on the federal level to make sure that Washington is an effective partner with local communities in providing Ohioans with the skills training they need to succeed.”

 

In Zanesville, Portman Meets with Muskingum County’s Restored Citizens Network

Portman met with board members of Muskingum County’s Restored Citizens Network, an organization that strives to make Muskingum and surrounding counties a safer place to live, work, and raise a family through engaging offenders returning to the community. Last year, the Restored Citizens Network received a $475,953 grant through Senator Portman’s bipartisan Second Chance Act, a law that is working to help people exiting the prison system rebuild their lives by getting the mental health treatment and skills training they need to reenter the workforce. This funding will go towards ForeverDads, an organization that designs and manages programming to encourage, educate, and equip men to develop positive relationships with their children, family, and community. 

“I enjoyed my visit today with board members of Muskingum County’s Restored Citizens Network to learn about the great work they are doing throughout the county and beyond,” said Portman. “We discussed how the organization is using Second Chance Act grant funding to provide resources for their ForeverDads program. My bipartisan Second Chance Act has changed thousands of lives in Ohio, and my bipartisan JOBS Act will complement it by ensuring that individuals in programs like those run by ForeverDads have the opportunity to learn the skills for the jobs available today. I’m pleased that ForeverDads has a strong presence in Muskingum County and that they will continue to help former inmates live up to their God-given potential.”

In Newark, Portman Participates in Save A Warrior’s Cohort Graduation Ceremony

Portman participated in Save A Warrior’s cohort graduation ceremony. Established in 2012, Save a Warrior is nonprofit organization aimed at saving the lives of veterans and first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. The Save A Warrior week-long "War Detox" program specializes in connecting active duty military, returning veterans, and first responders experiencing psychological trauma such as post-traumatic stress disorder and helping them heal. 

“It was an honor to have the opportunity to participate in Save A Warrior’s cohort graduation ceremony at Warrior Village today,” said Portman. “The veterans I spoke to showed great courage in banding together as a cohort to support one another in their recovery. Since its establishment in 2012, Save a Warrior has grown into an invaluable resource for more than 1,000 warriors in need of help healing from the invisible wounds of war. Our veterans deserve the best care we can offer, and I will continue to work in the Senate to ensure we don’t forget the men and women who have served.”

SOCIAL MEDIA

 

Internet access for rural Ohio

Most Ohioans can get access to a steady, fast internet connection at work or home. Unfortunately, for Ohioans living outside our big urban areas, broadband access can be hard to come by. This lack of access creates problems every day.

Access is a problem in rural areas all over our state, but no area is left behind more than southeast Ohio.

I recently heard from Nick Tepe, who runs the public libraries in Athens County in southeast Ohio. He told us he leaves the library’s public WiFi on around the clock because people will drive to the parking lot at all hours of the night due to a lack of broadband access in the area.

In all, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 99.3 percent of the Ohio population in urban areas has access to fast, reliable broadband, but only 78.3 percent in rural areas, and more than 615,000 Ohioans are still unable to access the internet on a regular basis.

Without that stable broadband connection, these Ohioans are at a disadvantage when it comes to starting a small business, and even applying for jobs. It makes it hard to pay bills online, get college credit online, shop online, get health care online, or take advantage of the many other resources that are housed on the internet today.

While it is cost effective for big internet providers to cover urban areas, they often times don’t have the financial incentive to expand coverage to these rural areas.

In their place, local, nonprofit, consumer-owned cooperatives are starting to work with these rural communities to build internet infrastructure in the same way they helped provide telephone and electricity access in the past. Co-ops providing this service have started to work well in parts of rural Ohio.

Under normal conditions, co-ops, like other non-profits, would not have federal tax liability. This helps ensure they can focus on what is truly important – helping Ohioans stay connected. The government also works with these co-ops through grant or loan programs from the Department of Agriculture, the FCC, and elsewhere that allow them to grow their coverage without taking on debt.

All levels of government are starting to assist co-ops more in building out rural broadband. For example, the Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative in southeast Ohio just last month received a $2.5 million grant to lay 168 miles of fiber in six different rural counties in Ohio. This broadband expansion would initially serve up to 2,000 more households, with the potential to build out from that fiber to thousands more households. Once that internet access is established, those people can attend an online university, order groceries, or get medical advice faster and at a lower cost.

Unfortunately, because of an oversight in the federal tax law, any cooperative that earns more than 15 percent of its total revenue for that year from grant funds loses its tax-exempt status.

Co-ops like Buckeye Rural now face the choice to refuse these broadband grants or face tax bills that would make it impossible for them to function. We’ve seen this happen already for Forked Deer Electrical Cooperative in Tennessee, where they have been forced to only accept a small part of a $2.8 million grant to avoid unfair taxes. Putting Ohio co-op tax-exempt status in danger has already caused some of them to think twice before even applying for broadband service grants.

To fix this problem, I joined my fellow senator, Tina Smith of Minnesota, in introducing a new bill we call the Revitalizing Underdeveloped Rural Areas and Lands Act, or RURAL Act. This bill would adjust the tax code to ensure that cooperatives can receive grants without being in danger of losing their tax-exempt status. By giving cooperatives that guarantee, they will be able to expand internet coverage faster and more effectively. The RURAL Act already has nearly 300 cosponsors in the House and nearly 50 in the Senate, and I am trying hard to get it over the finish line and to President Trump for his signature.

In today’s world, the Internet plays a role in everything from business to health care. Let’s expand broadband coverage and pass the RURAL Act to help ensure that no one in Ohio is left behind.

(Internet access for rural Ohio. Highland Country Press. December 2, 2019)

 

Column: Senate should pass SECURE Act to help workers in small businesses

America is approaching a retirement-crisis crossroads. Every day, approximately 10,000 baby boomers are retiring. Many of them have saved, but many are not prepared. Some have not because they lack access to a retirement plan like a 401(k) account.

In an increasingly competitive economy, it is time for Congress to pass the SECURE Act and enable small businesses to more easily offer a workplace retirement plan to their millions of employees. With record low unemployment making it harder for small businesses to retain top talent and a growing retirement preparedness problem, the SECURE Act offers a solution: Open Multiple Employer Plans (MEPs) allow small businesses to pool their resources to offer a retirement plan that is cost effective and administratively simpler.

In Ohio, small businesses account for 99.6% of businesses and 2.2 million employees, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy. They are the backbone of Ohio’s economy and the cornerstone of the American dream. Like any business, small employers face economic pressures and challenges that can make offering competitive benefits difficult.

At the same time, access to a workplace retirement plan is a leading indicator of retirement preparedness. Many small-business owners do not provide this benefit because of high cost, legal complexity or the lack of time for administration. As a result, a large portion of Ohio’s workers’ financial futures are left compromised. The Nationwide Retirement Institute found that 51% of future retirees over the age of 50 say an employer-sponsored retirement plan will be their main source of income in retirement.

The business need to retain talent and the societal need to prepare for retirement provide a shared incentive to level the playing field so that small-business owners can more easily offer plans that are competitive with large corporations. Luckily, there is an answer.

The SECURE Act was approved earlier this year in the House of Representatives with a nearly unanimous vote of 417-3. The legislation will be the largest overhaul of the U.S. retirement system in a decade. Critically, the bill allows for open MEPs, a new avenue that makes it easier for small-business owners to offer workplace retirement plans.

A recent Nationwide business owner survey found that 59% think the SECURE Act would have a positive impact on their ability to offer a 401(k) plan, and 80% say passage of the SECURE Act will allow them to offer a 401(k) plan that rivals those offered at large corporations.

We need to give the 2.2 million small-business employees in Ohio — who are balancing the financial needs of today with the need to prepare for retirement tomorrow — the opportunity to secure their financial futures. Providing that opportunity begins in Washington with the passage of the SECURE Act. We applaud Ohio’s Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman for their continuing support and urge the U.S. Senate to pass the SECURE Act now.

Our company has been protecting American retirements and legacies for decades. We were one of the first insurance companies to sell a mutual fund product in the 1950s. In the 1980s, we collaborated with policymakers to develop deferred compensation programs for public-sector workers. Now, those plans provide a much-needed retirement-saving opportunity for public employees who serve us each and every day.

For the past decade, Nationwide has continued to engage with lawmakers on additional legislative reforms to ensure private-sector small businesses’ needs are addressed and their employees are supported. As part of the retirement reform discussions, Nationwide helped to develop the open MEPs concept that became a key part of the SECURE Act.

In addition to MEPs, we also advanced another provision to increase access to workplace retirement plans: providing small-business owners a financial incentive to offer their employees a plan. The SECURE Act provides for an annual tax credit that covers up to $5,000 of plan costs for the first three years that an employer offers a plan.

The data is clear: Access to a workplace retirement plan is critical to retirement security. Today, too many Ohio workers lack the opportunity to participate in a workplace plan, but that can change with the passage of the SECURE Act.

(Column: Senate should pass SECURE Act to help workers in small businesses. Columbus Dispatch. December 2, 2019)

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