Rob’s Rundown: Week of September 14 – September 18, 2020

September 19, 2020 | Rob's Rundown

Senator Portman was in Washington this week and delivered remarks on the Senate floor stressing the need for Senate Democrats to work with Republicans and negotiate in good faith on a bipartisan COVID-19 relief package addressing the need for more funds to help our schools, small businesses, and increase testing, as well as including a reasonable extension of the enhanced federal unemployment insurance supplement to help Americans who lost their jobs during the pandemic through no fault of their own make ends meet. 

Last night, Portman issued a statement mourning the loss of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away at the age of 87. 

Friday morning, Portman introduced legislation to replenish FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund so that the Agency can continue the enhanced federal unemployment insurance benefit of $300 per week authorized by President Trump’s executive action and provide additional resources to support the federal government’s response to historic wildfires in the West and other natural disasters such as Hurricane Sally.

On Tuesday, Portman attended the White House signing ceremony for the Abraham Accords establishing full diplomatic relations between Israel, the United Arab Emiratesy, and Bahrain. He touted the agreement as a momentous achievement that will help pave the way towards a more peaceful and prosperous Middle East.

In addition, Portman joined a number of his Senate colleagues in introducing the Protect and Serve Act, legislation that would create federal penalties for individuals who deliberately target local, state, or federal law enforcement officers with violence.

Lastly, Portman praised the Senate Judiciary Committee for advancing three more Ohio judicial nominations – Judge J. Philip Calabrese and Judge James Knepp to serve as U.S. Federal District Court Judges for the Northern District of Ohio, and Judge Michael Newman to serve as U.S. Federal District Court Judge for the Southern District of Ohio. The Senate is expected to confirm them before the end of the year.

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

Monday, September 8, 2020

Portman Joins Senate Colleagues in Introducing Bipartisan Resolution in Support of Belarusian People  

Portman joined Senators Jim Risch (R-ID) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, along with Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Tim Kaine (D-VA), in introducing a resolution condemning the crackdown on peaceful protestors in Belarus and calling for the imposition of sanctions on responsible officials.

“I am proud to join this bipartisan resolution which shows that the United States stands in solidarity with the people of Belarus and condemns the violence that State Security Forces backed by Russia and President Lukashenko have used to suppress these peaceful protests,” said Portman. “As Co-Chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, I am all too familiar with Russia's malign behavior. As the freedom loving people of Belarus look to the West for leadership, the United States must work with our partners in Europe to counter Russian dominance and aggression in Belarus." 

Portman Column: In the Social Distancing Era, Rural America Needs Broadband to Survive

Over the last six months, the United States has seen various forms of lockdown as we have worked to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. These uncertain times have led many of us to make changes in the way we work, learn, and communicate. Many of these changes have been facilitated by the Internet, as applications like Zoom have become invaluable tools for teaching our kids, business collaboration with co-workers, getting health care advice from medical experts, and social interaction with friends and family. But for the surprising number of rural Americans who have no reliable Internet connection at home, these past few months have posed unprecedented challenges, and with every passing day, these Americans are falling behind in access to health care, education, and economic opportunity.

I have been a long-time advocate for expanding access to the Internet because we know a lack of coverage remains a problem in parts of Ohio. While 99.3 percent of Ohioans in urban areas have access to Internet, in Ohio's nine largest cities, there remain 190,000 people with no such access. In rural Ohio, things are much worse. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), only 78.3 percent of rural Ohioans have Internet access. In all, more than 615,000 Ohioans and 18 million Americans nationwide are still unable to access high-speed Internet on a regular basis. Some of these individuals do reside in urban areas, and expanding broadband access for all Americans should be an important priority. But while many of the problems posed by the lack of widespread rural broadband infrastructure predate this crisis, the pandemic has either cut off or limited access that many rural Americans have to a few sources of speedy Internet, like public libraries and schools.

This is an unsustainable situation, and the urgency of the moment means that now is the time to remove as much bureaucratic red tape as possible and incentivize Internet service providers (ISPs) to build out their networks in the countryside. As part of our commitment to ensuring Americans have the resources they need to weather the storm of the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government must invest in expanding broadband access to rural parts of America, so that no American is unable to speak to a doctor, attend an online class, or order medicine for a loved one for simple lack of a stable Internet connection.

Recently, I introduced the bipartisan, bicameral legislation called the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act to do just that. This fall, the FCC will begin implementing its $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to go towards building rural broadband networks. The Rural Broadband Acceleration Act will speed up the spread of Internet access by authorizing the FCC to quickly get this money to ISPs that commit to building out infrastructure within six months and start providing service within a year. 

By speeding up the distribution of rural broadband funds, the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act provides immediate and lasting benefits to our rural areas. It will quicken the development of about 130 existing rural broadband projects that combined will provide more than three million households with high-speed Internet over more than 400,000 miles of Internet fiber cables and employ thousands of workers. In Ohio, it stands to provide hundreds of thousands of rural households with the same level of high-speed Internet access as enjoyed by those in cities. It will also enable new projects proposed by trusted and reliable ISPs to be green-lit and funded, meaning that our rural broadband network will continue to expand at this accelerated rate into the future. And, once in place, the economic, educational, and social benefits of broadband are immeasurable. While this legislation was prompted by the immediate needs of the coronavirus pandemic, the positive changes it will bring to our rural communities will last for generations.

We can make other changes to existing laws to promote rural broadband as well. Some heavily rural Ohio counties have sought to use the state and local funding provided by the bipartisan CARES Act that Congress passed in March to invest in large-scale broadband projects, only to learn that these funds must be spent by the end of the year -- far too soon for a broadband project to be completed. I believe we should fix this by putting in place an extension for CARES Act funds that are being used on rural broadband projects. 

Crises bring with them both challenges and opportunities. While many rural Americans are struggling to adapt to the increasingly online COVID-19 era, the unprecedented steps Congress has taken to respond to this crisis means that the time is now to push for a rapid and comprehensive expansion of rural broadband access. As Congress works to negotiate a new coronavirus rescue package, I believe the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act should be included as part of any new legislation. This bipartisan bill will directly respond to a major challenge facing our rural communities and put millions of Americans on a path towards a more prosperous future. COVID-19 has underscored how the Internet plays a role in everything from business to health care. Let’s pass the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act so that all Americans can stay connected during this crisis.

House Passes Portman, Gardner Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Federal Government’s Use of Artificial Intelligence

Senators Rob Portman and Cory Gardner (R-CO) applauded the House of Representative for passing their bipartisan Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Government Act, legislation that would improve the effectiveness of the federal government by ensuring that the government’s use of AI and automated processes are ethical and accountable, and that the government has the necessary technical expertise to successfully use AI. The bill was also co-sponsored by Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Kamala Harris (D-CA). The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved the legislation on November 6, 2019 and it awaits action on the Senate floor. Once passed by the Senate it will be ready for the president’s signature.

“Artificial intelligence will have significant impacts on our country, economy, and society,” said Senator Portman, Co-Chair of the Senate AI Caucus. “Ensuring that our government has the capabilities and expertise to help navigate those impacts will be important in the coming years and decades. This bipartisan legislation represents the most significant AI policy change ever passed by Congress.  I’m pleased the House has passed this measure and I urge my Senate colleagues to support it when it comes the floor for a vote.” 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Portman Statement on the Signing of the Abraham Accords 

Portman attended the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House. The Abraham Accords represent the establishment of full diplomatic relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The addition of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain brings the number of Arab countries with full relations with Israel to four. Portman released the following statement:

“I’m honored to attend the signing of the Abraham Accords which represent the establishment of full diplomatic relations between our allies Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. President Trump and his administration should be commended for their hard work to bring these peace agreements to fruition. This is a tremendous achievement that will help pave the way towards a more peaceful and prosperous Middle East.

“Today’s action gives me hope that we can build on this progress and encourage more allies in the region to establish full diplomatic ties with Israel. I’ve worked on bipartisan legislation with Senator Booker, the Strengthening Reporting of Actions Taken Against the Normalization of Relations with Israel Act, which would build upon the accords by encouraging more Arab states to foster better community engagement with Israel. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to support this bipartisan effort.”

House Passes Portman, Peters Bipartisan Bill to Save Taxpayer Dollars on Federal Vehicles

Senators Rob Portman and Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, applauded House passage of their bipartisan bill to help save taxpayer dollars by updating policies to help federal agencies adopt electric vehicles, which are more energy efficient than traditional gas-powered vehicles. The Charging Helps Agencies Realize General Efficiencies Act (CHARGE Act) will direct the General Services Administration (GSA) to allow vehicle charge cards to be used to pay for electric vehicle recharging at commercially available charging stations. The Senate passed this legislation on December 18, 2019. The legislation now heads to the president’s desk to be signed into law.

“If federal employees are required to pay for gas with travel charge cards, they should also be allowed to ‘fill up’ at a charging station when operating an electric vehicle,” said Senator Portman. “I'm pleased that the House passed this bipartisan, common-sense bill so that federal agencies can adopt more energy-efficient electric vehicles and I look forward to the president signing it into law soon.”

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

House Passes Portman, Peters Bipartisan Bill to Improve Transparency of Federal Spending

Senators Rob Portman and Gary Peters (D-MI) applauded the House passage of their bipartisan bill, the Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act of 2019, to help make information about how the federal government is spending taxpayer dollars more accessible to taxpayers. The legislation will improve government transparency by requiring federal agencies to publish easily understandable justifications for their budget requests on a single, central website each year. Congressional budget justifications are plain-language explanations of how agencies propose to spend money that they request from Congressional appropriators. The materials would also be posted on each agency’s website. The legislation was approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on November 6th, 2019 and now awaits action on the Senate floor.

“Americans have the right to know how the federal government is spending their hard-earned tax dollars,” said Portman. “This bipartisan legislation will help shine a light on government spending practices so that taxpayers can quickly and easily see how their money is being spent. I applaud the House for passing this important piece of legislation and urge the Senate to bring this legislation up for a vote soon.” 

Portman, Warren, Blackburn, Boozman, Tester, Reed Introduce Bill to Modernize Delivery of Notice of Lease Terminations for Servicemembers 

Senators Rob Portman, Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), John Boozman (R-AR), Jon Tester (D-MT); Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced the Modernizing Notice of Lease Terminations for Servicemembers Act, bipartisan legislation that would amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) to clarify that servicemembers can deliver notice of termination of residential and car leases by electronic means.

SCRA currently includes narrow, outdated requirements for the acceptable delivery of notice of termination of residential and car leases entered into by servicemembers -- by "hand delivery," "private business carrier," or regular mail. These requirements were drafted in 2003 and do not explicitly permit electronic delivery of notice of a lease termination, which is a primary means by which tenants communicate with landlords and by which lessees communicate with car leasing companies. The ability to electronically deliver notice of termination of a residential or car lease is especially important for servicemembers who may already be serving in another location by the time they are able to seek termination due to a deployment or a permanent change of station (PCS). Electronic means of communication are also critical in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which physical contact should be limited and traditional mail and delivery services may heighten the risk of exposure. 

"I'm proud to introduce the Modernizing Notice of Lease Terminations for Servicemembers Act because it makes an important update to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, allowing our military families to terminate leases electronically and use e-documents, instead of being required to provide paper copies of documents. This is especially important for military families who must move homes regularly, and as we've learned from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the flexibility of using e-documents instead of paper saves time, money, and allows for socially distant transactions," Senator Portman said.

Portman Statement on WTO Ruling Against U.S. Tariffs on China

Portman issued the following statement on the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling Tuesday on China’s 2018 complaint that some U.S. tariffs against China broke international trading rules:

“This case is a symptom of the WTO's failure to address the challenges that China has created for the global trading system. Although the lack of a quorum at the Appellate Body will prevent this case from going any further, this case underscores why we need to rebalance the WTO back to being an organization where outcomes are won at the negotiating table as much as possible. Right now, the WTO is far too focused on litigation, and that is why I introduced a bipartisan resolution on WTO reform over the summer.

“China must be held accountable for continuing to break both the letter and spirit of international trade rules. In addition to reforming the WTO to create new rules against non-market techno-nationalism and revitalizing the lost art of trade negotiation, the United States should engage both bilaterally and multilaterally to protect American jobs and small businesses. Leaving the WTO is not an option. To do so would be to cede the organization over to China’s leadership.”

Portman on Fox News: “Let’s Get Politics Out of COVID Relief Bill & Do What’s Right for the American People” 

On Fox News’s Your World With Neil Cavuto, Portman highlighted the need for Republicans and Democrats to work together on COVID-19 relief legislation and focus on the areas of agreement between the two parties: increased testing, additional funding for schools and universities, and restarting the Payment Protection Program, which has saved countless small businesses. As he did last week after Senate Democrats voted to block targeted COVID-19 response legislation, Portman urged Senate Democrats insisting on passing the partisan, $3.5 trillion HEROES Act to instead work together and negotiate in good faith with Republicans to finalize additional coronavirus response legislation so that Americans do not continue to go without relief. He believes the shared policy goals in the targeted bill can serve as a good starting point for bipartisan negotiation and he will advocate for his additional priorities of more flexibility and additional for state and local funding, permanently access to telehealth, and funding for rural broadband development as so many telework, use telehealth, and attend school virtually.

In addition, Portman applauded the Big Ten Conference for their decision to proceed with collegiate football this season with a robust plan for safety in place.

Excerpts of the interview can be found here and a video can be found here.

On Senate Floor, Portman Calls for Bipartisan Action to Provide COVID-19 Unemployment Insurance Relief 

On the Senate floor, Portman stressed the need for Senate Democrats to work with Republicans and negotiate in good faith on a bipartisan COVID-19 relief package including a reasonable extension of the enhanced federal unemployment insurance (UI) supplement to help Americans who lost their jobs during the pandemic through no fault of their own make ends meet. 

After the previous $600 per week enhanced federal supplement created under the bipartisan CARES Act expired on August 1, Senator Portman was a leader in proposing a temporary extension of the program while a long-term UI solution was negotiated. However, Senate Democrats voted to block this measure multiple times, as well as targeted legislation introduced last week that would have also provided a $300 per week in enhanced federal unemployment benefits through December 27, 2020. In response to Congress’ inaction, the Trump Administration created a temporary Lost Wages Assistance program using existing FEMA funds to allow states to continue to distribute enhanced unemployment benefits, but all of this funding has been appropriated and unemployed Americans are once again facing an abrupt end in benefits.

Senator Portman urged his Senate Democratic colleagues to put aside politics and negotiate a package that helps people weather the challenges of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic without creating a disincentive to work as the economy continues to recover.

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

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Portman Joins Senate Colleagues in Introducing Legislation to Punish Criminals for Targeting Law Enforcement Officers  

Senators Rob Portman, Thom Tillis (R-NC), John Kennedy (R-LA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Rick Scott (R-FL), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Mike Braun (R-IN), David Perdue (R-GA), Richard Burr (R-NC), Roger Wicker (R-MS), James Inhofe (R-OK), and John Boozman (R-AR) introduced the Protect and Serve Act, legislation that would create federal penalties for individuals who deliberately target local, state, or federal law enforcement officers with violence.

In 2020, there have been 37 law enforcement officers killed in the U.S. This is an increase of more than 20 percent since this time last year. Of those, eight were ambushed in premeditated attacks, two were victims of an unprovoked attack, and the other 27 officers killed in the line of duty. The Protect and Serve Act would address this problem by giving federal prosecutors the tools they need to hold accountable those who target law enforcement for assault and attacks.

Earlier this week, Portman co-sponsored Senator Rick Scott’s “Back the Blue” Resolution to express support for the selfless work of the courageous law enforcement officers who protect all law-abiding citizens against the threats posed by criminals and violent domestic groups interested in sowing chaos and destruction. The resolution was brought to the Senate floor yesterday to be passed by unanimous consent, but Senate Democrats blocked passage.

“Attacks and violence against law enforcement officers are unacceptable and must be punished,” said Senator Rob Portman. “I am pleased to support this bill to enhance penalties for crimes against those who put their lives on the line every day for the safety of communities across the country. I urge my colleagues to support this bill so it can be passed and enacted quickly. We must hold those who target and assault law enforcement officers accountable for their actions and I hope this bill serves as a deterrent against future attacks.”

Portman, Brown Applaud Senate Judiciary Committee for Advancing Nominations of Judges to Serve on Ohio U.S. Federal District Courts 

Senators Portman and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) applauded the Senate Judiciary Committee for advancing three Ohio judicial nominations – Judge J. Philip Calabrese and Judge James Knepp to serve as U.S. Federal District Court Judges for the Northern District of Ohio, and Judge Michael Newman to serve as U.S. Federal District Court Judge for the Southern District of Ohio. The nominations will now be considered for confirmation by the full U.S. Senate. The Northern District has court locations in Akron, Cleveland, Toledo, and Youngstown and serves approximately 5.9 million citizens of the 40 most northern counties in Ohio. The Southern District has court locations in Cincinnati, Columbus, and Dayton and serves more than five million Ohioans in 48 counties. 

“I am pleased the Judiciary Committee has advanced the nominations of these deserving Ohioans to serve as federal judges in the Northern and Southern Districts,” said Portman.  “They have all been dedicated public servants whose experiences have uniquely qualified them to serve in these roles. I urge my colleagues to support their nominations on the Senate floor and I am confident they will serve the people of Ohio admirably.”

At Hearing, State Department Official Confirms Portman’s Safeguarding American Innovation Act Will Help Federal Efforts to Stop China’s Theft of American Research & Intellectual Property 

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, the State Department’s David R. Stilwell, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, confirmed to Portman that his Safeguarding American Innovation Act will help federal efforts to stop China’s theft of U.S. taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property. Portman’s bipartisan legislation will help stop foreign governments, particularly China, from stealing American taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property developed at U.S. colleges, universities, and research institutions. It was passed by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee earlier this year.

Recently, both FBI Director Wray and Attorney General Barr, have spoken about the threat to American taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property from foreign governments, particularly China, which would be addressed by this legislation. In fact, FBI Director Wray announced that the FBI is opening a new China-related investigation every 10 hours with around 2,500 open counterintelligence investigations across the country. In addition, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has reported that 54 scientists have resigned or been fired as a result of a NIH investigation into American taxpayer-funded grant recipients’ failure to disclose financial ties to foreign governments, particularly China. In fact, according to the NIH investigation, more than 90 percent of the scientists had undisclosed ties to China. Committee passage of this legislation means Congress is one step closer to safeguarding American innovation and Portman is urging the Senate to take the next step and vote on this important legislation soon.

Excerpts of the hearing can be found here and a video can be found here.

Portman Announces Federal CARES Act HUD Grant to Licking County to Help Fund the Housing Choice Voucher Program Across Ohio 

Portman announced that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded Licking Metropolitan Housing Authority $521,510 in Housing Choice Voucher Program Housing Assistance Payments Supplemental Funding provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act which Portman supported. These special funds are to be used to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus pandemic among individuals and families who are homeless or receiving homeless assistance.

Today’s grants build on the nearly $90 million in HUD grants from CARES Act funding. Portman has long focused on ensuring Ohioans have affordable housing and is currently championing the bipartisan Evictions Crisis Act which will help to address the national housing crisis that is undermining the efforts of millions of Americans to rise into the middle class. The bipartisan legislation will shed light on the root causes of the eviction crisis, reduce preventable evictions, and limit the devastation to families when eviction is unavoidable. More than 75 national and Ohio based housing, civil rights, and homelessness groups have announced their strong support for the Eviction Crisis Act. Portman released the following statement:  

“These HUD grants will help the Licking Housing Authority to keep up with growing housing expenses during this ongoing coronavirus pandemic,” said Portman. “I’ve long believed we must address homelessness and increase the supply of housing so Ohioans can reach their God-given potential and I’m glad these grants will help public housing authorities assist individuals and families during this crisis. I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure Ohioans have the resources they need during these uncertain times.” 

Friday, September 18, 2020

In Dayton, Portman Participates In Grand Opening of OneFifteen Living 

Portman participated in the ribbon cutting ceremony for OneFifteen Living, the residential housing facility which is part of OneFifteen’s health care ecosystem dedicated to the full and sustained recovery of people suffering from addiction. The 26,300 square foot building has 29 double-occupancy rooms with separate living spaces for men and women. Portman attended the launch of the OneFifteen campus grand opening back in June of 2019. 

“I was honored to participate in today’s grand opening of OneFifteen Living. This new residential housing development will help OneFifteen to continue providing much-needed wraparound services dedicated to the recovery of those suffering from opioid addiction,” said Portman. “OneFifteen’s approach to addressing addiction and its grip on our communities is exactly what is needed to help continue to turn the tide of the opioid addiction epidemic and save lives in the Dayton region and Ohio. I will continue to work to help ensure local groups like this one have the support they need to continue their good work.”

Portman Announces $13.8 Million in Federal Grants for Rail Infrastructure Improvement Projects Throughout Ohio

Portman announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration has awarded more than $13.8 million in grant funding to six Ohio rail systems for consolidated rail infrastructure and safety improvement programs. A list of grant recipients can be found below. 

“This is great news for Ohio’s rail systems and their efforts to upgrade our infrastructure, and I applaud Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao for awarding nearly $14 million to Ohio,” said Portman. “This grant funding will help provide the resources needed to improve the safety, efficiency, and reliability of intercity passenger and freight rail throughout Ohio.”

Portman, Tillis Introduce Legislation to Replenish Disaster Relief Fund to Continue $300 Enhanced Federal UI Benefit, Provide Additional Resources for Wildfires & Natural Disasters

Senators Rob Portman and Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced legislation to replenish FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) to continue the enhanced federal unemployment insurance benefit of $300 per week authorized by President Trump’s executive action and provide additional resources to support the federal government’s response to historic wildfires in the West and other natural disasters such as Hurricane Sally. This legislation would appropriate $86.6 billion to the DRF for these purposes, designated as emergency funding, through November 21, 2020.

The CARES Act appropriated $45 billion to the DRF, of which $44 billion has been obligated to cover six weeks-worth of lost wages assistance per state. The Lost Wages Assistance program provided $300 per week to complement each state’s unemployment insurance benefit. Once each state uses its appropriated six weeks’ worth of funding, the DRF will have less than what FEMA said would be necessary to fight natural disasters. Furthermore, since the DRF is currently funding ongoing COVID-19 support and both hurricane and wildfire season are ongoing, ensuring there is appropriate levels of funding in the DRF is crucial. Portman and Tillis introduced the legislation today so that it is available on the Senate calendar for consideration next week.

“Before Congress adjourns for the election, the House and Senate should act to replenish FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund. This is a vital lifeline for those impacted by natural disasters like the ongoing wildfires on our west coast and Hurricane Sally, Hurricane Laura, and those that are yet to come this season. Thanks to the president’s executive action, this fund is also ensuring that Americans who lost their job through no fault of their own can make ends meet,” said Senator Portman. “If Congress cannot come together to negotiate another COVID-19 response package, then at the very least we must act to extend these enhanced federal unemployment benefits and help those impacted by the recent wildfires and natural disasters. I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this important legislation.”

Portman Statement on the Passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg 

Portman issued the following statement on the passing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

“I’m saddened to hear of the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was a brilliant lawyer and a pioneer in the legal profession as only the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court. She was respected by all who knew her and admired by so many as a trail blazer and a champion for equal rights. Her personal friendship and respect for colleagues across the ideological spectrum, including conservative Justices Antonin Scalia, serves as an example for all of us. Jane and I extend our condolences to her family and her colleagues on their loss.”

SOCIAL MEDIA

 

 

In the Social Distancing Era, Rural America Needs Broadband to Survive

Over the last six months, the United States has seen various forms of lockdown as we have worked to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. These uncertain times have led many of us to make changes in the way we work, learn, and communicate. Many of these changes have been facilitated by the Internet, as applications like Zoom have become invaluable tools for teaching our kids, business collaboration with co-workers, getting health care advice from medical experts, and social interaction with friends and family. But for the surprising number of rural Americans who have no reliable Internet connection at home, these past few months have posed unprecedented challenges, and with every passing day, these Americans are falling behind in access to health care, education, and economic opportunity.  

I have been a long-time advocate for expanding access to the Internet because we know a lack of coverage remains a problem in parts of Ohio. While 99.3 percent of Ohioans in urban areas have access to Internet, in Ohio's nine largest cities, there remain 190,000 people with no such access. In rural Ohio, things are much worse. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), only 78.3 percent of rural Ohioans have Internet access. In all, more than 615,000 Ohioans and 18 million Americans nationwide are still unable to access high-speed Internet on a regular basis. Some of these individuals do reside in urban areas, and expanding broadband access for all Americans should be an important priority. But while many of the problems posed by the lack of widespread rural broadband infrastructure predate this crisis, the pandemic has either cut off or limited access that many rural Americans have to a few sources of speedy Internet, like public libraries and schools. 

This is an unsustainable situation, and the urgency of the moment means that now is the time to remove as much bureaucratic red tape as possible and incentivize Internet service providers (ISPs) to build out their networks in the countryside. As part of our commitment to ensuring Americans have the resources they need to weather the storm of the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government must invest in expanding broadband access to rural parts of America, so that no American is unable to speak to a doctor, attend an online class, or order medicine for a loved one for simple lack of a stable Internet connection. 

Recently, I introduced the bipartisan, bicameral legislation called the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act to do just that. This fall, the FCC will begin implementing its $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to go towards building rural broadband networks. The Rural Broadband Acceleration Act will speed up the spread of Internet access by authorizing the FCC to quickly get this money to ISPs that commit to building out infrastructure within six months and start providing service within a year.  

By speeding up the distribution of rural broadband funds, the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act provides immediate and lasting benefits to our rural areas. It will quicken the development of about 130 existing rural broadband projects that combined will provide more than three million households with high-speed Internet over more than 400,000 miles of Internet fiber cables and employ thousands of workers. In Ohio, it stands to provide hundreds of thousands of rural households with the same level of high-speed Internet access as enjoyed by those in cities. It will also enable new projects proposed by trusted and reliable ISPs to be green-lit and funded, meaning that our rural broadband network will continue to expand at this accelerated rate into the future. And, once in place, the economic, educational, and social benefits of broadband are immeasurable. While this legislation was prompted by the immediate needs of the coronavirus pandemic, the positive changes it will bring to our rural communities will last for generations.

We can make other changes to existing laws to promote rural broadband as well. Some heavily rural Ohio counties have sought to use the state and local funding provided by the bipartisan CARES Act that Congress passed in March to invest in large-scale broadband projects, only to learn that these funds must be spent by the end of the year -- far too soon for a broadband project to be completed. I believe we should fix this by putting in place an extension for CARES Act funds that are being used on rural broadband projects.  

Crises bring with them both challenges and opportunities. While many rural Americans are struggling to adapt to the increasingly online COVID-19 era, the unprecedented steps Congress has taken to respond to this crisis means that the time is now to push for a rapid and comprehensive expansion of rural broadband access. As Congress works to negotiate a new coronavirus rescue package, I believe the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act should be included as part of any new legislation. This bipartisan bill will directly respond to a major challenge facing our rural communities and put millions of Americans on a path towards a more prosperous future. COVID-19 has underscored how the Internet plays a role in everything from business to health care. Let’s pass the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act so that all Americans can stay connected during this crisis.

 

 

Thankful for the Drug-Free Communities Grant

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made our work to combat addiction even harder.

That’s why the Drug-Free Communities Grant Faith in Recovery just received will make a big difference as we continue to work to help those suffering from addiction.

I commend Senator Portman for his leadership on the Drug-Free Communities Act in the 1990s, and his continued advocacy for DFCs. He’s always been a champion in Congress for these programs which have a great track record of helping people like us fight addiction in Ohio and around the country.

That’s why I’m so glad he is continuing to support DFCs during this coronavirus pandemic with his Drug-Free Communities Pandemic Relief Act.

The COVID-19 shutdown has caused some DFCs to get hit with funding cuts, and this bill Senator Portman introduced will make sure they can continue to receive needed support from the federal government for the duration of this pandemic.

 

We’ve made so much progress these past few years in helping Ohio overcome the addiction crisis that’s affected countless families in our state. We can’t let the coronavirus cause us to lose ground in that fight.

 

Senator Portman’s Drug-Free Communities Pandemic Relief Act will help us continue to provide prevention and a community-level response to support those fighting addiction, and I urge congress to pass it soon.