Tuesday, July 9, 2019
Ernst Week in Review
Ernst Calls for Accurate Broadband Maps
Continuing her efforts to expand access to broadband in rural areas in Iowa, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) joined Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in sending a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai regarding the FCC’s role in ensuring the accuracy of broadband maps.
“According to your 2018 Broadband Deployment Report, more than three in four rural Iowans have access to broadband. More broadly, the report indicates that 90.5 percent of all Iowans have access to broadband. As much as we wish that were the case, we can tell you that the FCC data drastically overstates broadband access throughout our state,” the Senators wrote.
“While we appreciate everything that the Commission has done to expand rural broadband connectivity, it is critical for these maps to be improved so public and private partners alike have access to the accurate data needed to bridge the digital divide.
“A validated set of data based upon standardized methods of granular reporting will be essential to ensure that funding is available throughout rural America.”
Senator Ernst has also put forward bipartisan legislation—known as the Access to Capital Creates Economic Strength and Supports (ACCESS) Rural America Act—to cut regulatory red tape for rural telecommunications providers.
Text of the Senators’ letter is available here and below.
Dear Chairman Pai:
We are pleased that the Federal Communications Commission is continuing to work on the important issue of accurate broadband maps. It is vital that we are able to more precisely identify where fixed and mobile broadband service is available or lacking in the United States.
Current broadband availability maps are based largely upon whatever information may be received from providers. There are several problems with the current FCC maps. One example is that the maps are not granular enough. In the context of fixed broadband, an entire census block will appear as served even if service is offered to only one location within that census block. This can result in denial of broadband network funding or financing in such areas. Another concern is that the maps represent unvalidated reports from providers. While providers certify as to the accuracy of information presented, the process used to verify such information before funding or financing decisions are made can vary – or, in many cases, such processes do not exist at all.
According to your 2018 Broadband Deployment Report, more than three in four rural Iowans have access to broadband. More broadly, the report indicates that 90.5 percent of all Iowans have access to broadband. As much as we wish that were the case, we can tell you that the FCC data drastically overstates broadband access throughout our state. For example, in Chickasaw County, a rural area in the northeastern part of Iowa, the FCC reports universal broadband access. However, usage data available from technology companies suggests that only 5.9 percent of Chickasaw’s residents access the internet at broadband speeds. That discrepancy is too large.
While we appreciate everything that the Commission has done to expand rural broadband connectivity, it is critical for these maps to be improved so public and private partners alike have access to the accurate data needed to bridge the digital divide. Broadband access is a vital link to a range of necessary services and resources for rural America, including business and economic activity, education access, and providing healthcare in a flexible, efficient, and cost-effective way. Therefore, it is critical to ensure inaccurate information will not result in a denial of access to fixed or mobile broadband. A validated set of data based upon standardized methods of granular reporting will be essential to ensure that funding is available throughout rural America.
Thank you for your time and continued attention to this important matter for rural America. We look forward to working with you as the FCC continues to work to ensure all Americans have access to robust and reliable broadband.
Sunday, June 30, 2019
Ernst Week in Review
Working to Lower the Cost of Prescription Drugs for Iowa Families
Senator Ernst continues to work to lower the cost of prescription drugs for Iowa families. She is a cosponsor of a number of bills focused on this issue, three of which advanced in the Senate this week. On Thursday, during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, Senator Ernst spoke about her Preserving Access to Cost-Effective Drugs (PACED) Act which will close the loopholes that allow bad actors to take advantage of the system and allow for generic, lower cost alternative prescription drugs.
Click here on the image above to watch Ernst’s on her PACED Act.
Another Ernst sponsored bill that advanced in the Judiciary meeting is the Prescription Pricing for the People Act, which provides for greater transparency and increased competition in the marketplace. A third Ernst bill—the Creating and Restoring Equal Access to Equivalent Samples (CREATES) Act—moved out of the Senate HELP Committee this week.
Senator Ernst joined Neil Cavuto on Fox Business to discuss her ongoing efforts to lower the prices of prescription drugs.
Click here or on the image above to watch Ernst’s interview.
Providing for Our Troops and Their Families
Senator Ernst, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, proudly supported this year’s annual defense bill, the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. This year’s bipartisan defense bill includes a number of Senator Ernst’s priorities, including her work to provide additional support for our troops and their families, to address military sexual assault, and to harness Iowa’s critical contributions to our nation’s defense. For a full recap of Ernst’s provisions included in this year’s bill, click here.
Click here or on the image above to watch Senator Ernst discuss her priorities for FY20 NDAA.
Helping Address the Humanitarian Needs at the Southern Border
Earlier this week, the Senate acted in an overwhelmingly bipartisan way to provide desperately needed aid to help address the humanitarian needs at the border. Senator Ernst supported this bill that will provide funding for the care of unaccompanied children and basic necessities for migrants. Fortunately, the House did pass this Senate bill, and this legislation that will provide assistance for folks at the southern border, is on its way to the president for signature.
Ensuring the Safety of Iowa’s School Children
In response to a non-partisan government report confirming systemic problems in the reporting of seclusion and restraint in schools, Senator Ernst is pushing the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to immediately take action to ensure data is reported accurately. This comes after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) sent a letter to Congress revealing widespread inaccuracies in ED data on seclusion and restraint as a result of systemic misreporting in school districts around the country.
Senator Ernst, joined by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), sent a letter to the ED this week stating: “We respectfully urge you to immediately implement GAO’s recommendations and take additional steps to ensure school districts provide accurate seclusion and restraint data.” Read the full letter here.
Wednesday, May 11, 2019
Ernst Week in Review
Highlighting Iowa’s Small Businesses
This week was National Small Business Week! In Iowa, a staggering 99% of our businesses are small businesses. As a member of the Senate Small Businesses and Entrepreneurship Committee, Senator Ernst continued to fight for small businesses by reintroducing her bipartisan bill, the Prove It Act.
Ernst partnered with Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) on the Prove It Act, which would give small businesses a stronger voice in Washington’s complex rulemaking process by allowing the small business community to send federal agencies back to the drawing board to “prove” that a rule or regulation won’t have a significant impact on them.
Senator Ernst also spoke on the Senate floor about the critical role Iowa’s small businesses play in our booming economy, and the legislation she is working to support these local job creators.
In addition, Senator Ernst put forward a bipartisan bill with Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) aimed at helping provide additional opportunities for small businesses, in Iowa and across the country, to contract with government agencies, specifically the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).
Ernst capped-off National Small Business Week by announcing that Brunow Contracting of Council Bluffs, Iowa was named the Senate Small Business Committee’s “Small Business of the Day.” She recognized this woman-owned small business in the Congressional Record of the Senate.
“It’s crap!” – Ernst Decries Anti-Competitive Drug Pricing Practices
Senator Ernst is hearing from countless folks across Iowa on her 99 County Tour about the need to reduce the costs of prescription drugs. This week during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, she made Iowans’ voices known by decrying anti-competitive practices that deny patients affordable alternatives.
During the hearing, Ernst highlighted a number of her legislative efforts to ensure robust competition in the market and lower the cost of prescription drugs for Iowans across the state. She specifically discussed her bill with Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), the Preserving Access to Cost Effective Drugs (PACED) Act, which would promote greater competition and prohibit sham transactions like in 2017 when pharmaceutical giant Allergan attempted to shield the patent for one of their drugs by paying off a Native American tribe to take “ownership” of their patents.
Calling for Better Communication with Army Corps
Following up on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee field hearing she hosted in Glenwood last month, Senator Ernst this week questionedthe Army Corps of Engineers on the recovery effort and their river management policies in the wake of the March flooding in Southwest Iowa, specifically with regard to repairing and rebuilding the levees that were compromised.
Wednesday, April 24, 2019
Ernst, Grassley Encourage Iowans to Participate in National Drug Take Back Day
U.S. Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) released the following statement to encourage Iowans to participate in the 17th National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, April 27, 2019.
“Tragically, the opioid epidemic impacts millions of Americans and countless Iowans, either directly or indirectly, and claims more than 100 lives every day. Congress has taken substantive steps to provide support for addicts and their families during recovery and beyond. We’ve also put in place prevention efforts to help deter individuals from falling victim to this terrible epidemic. One of those efforts is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.
“Drug take back programs are a simple and effective way to stop addiction before it starts. They’re also an opportunity for everyone to help reduce the devastating impacts of opioid abuse. We encourage Iowans to find their nearest collection site and participate. It’s an easy way to help save lives in our communities.”
National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is a national program coordinated by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Its purpose is to provide a safe, convenient and anonymous way to dispose of unused prescription drugs.
In 2016, Ernst and Grassley, requested that the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) conduct a review of drug take back programs. Its report found low participation in the program due to confusing federally imposed regulations. Ernst and Grassley also urged the President’s Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis to conduct an evaluation of drug take back programs. The final report spurred increased participation in these programs from hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies through year-round unused drug collection.
Ernst and Grassley also worked with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) to introduce the Access to Increased Drug Disposal Act (AIDD), bipartisan legislation that creates a federal demonstration program that allows states to apply for grant funding from the DOJ to grow participation in drug take back days. The AIDD Act was included in the comprehensive opioid legislation that was signed into law last year.
During the 16th National Drug Take Back Day in October, 2018, the DEA organized 5,839 collection sites and collected more than 900,000 pounds of prescription medicine nationwide. That’s more than 457 tons of drugs that were diverted from theft, misuse, and polluting the environment. Since the first national collection in 2010, the DEA has collected nearly 11 million pounds.
In Iowa, 88 law enforcement officers worked at 128 collection sites throughout the state and collected 10,444 pounds of unused prescription drugs. More than 123,500 pounds of unused drugs have been collected in Iowa since the beginning of the drug take back program.
To find an authorized collection site, contact the DEA Office of Diversion Control’s Registration Call Center at 800/822-9539 or visit http://takebackday.dea.gov and enter a city, county, state or zip code to find the location most convenient for you.
Wednesday, April 3, 2019
Ernst on NATO Secretary General’s Address to Congress
Following a joint address to Congress by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), a member of the Senate NATO Observer Group and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, issued the following statement:
“The power of the United States abroad, and our safety at home in Iowa, is built on alliances and partnerships like NATO. For the past 70 years our membership in the organization has proven crucial to American security and prosperity at home and abroad.
“Today, Secretary General Stoltenberg reminded us just how critical the NATO alliance is to protecting our homeland and ensuring our way of life. I’m encouraged by his remarks, and look forward to our continued partnership with our NATO allies and friends around the globe.”
Friday, March 22, 2019
Ernst Supports Governor Reynolds’ Request for Federal Disaster Declaration
U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) today sent a letter to President Trump in support of Governor Kim Reynolds’ (R-IA) request for a federal disaster declaration for the State of Iowa. Nearly 60 counties in Iowa have experienced significant damage resulting from severe storms, heavy rain, and flooding that began on March 12, 2019.
In the letter, Senator Ernst wrote, “I’ve spent much of this week on the ground in Iowa surveying the damage and meeting with constituents and local, state, and federal officials. The devastation caused by the flooding is incomprehensible. I respectfully ask you to approve Governor Reynolds’ request as expeditiously as possible.”
The full letter is below, and can be found here.
March 22, 2018
The Honorable Donald J. Trump
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has requested a major disaster declaration for the State of Iowa as a result of severe storms and flooding that have significantly impacted nearly 60 counties since March 12, 2019, causing an estimated $1.6 billion in damages. By requesting a major disaster declaration, Governor Reynolds has determined that the State of Iowa and local governments cannot effectively respond to this flooding incident without supplementary assistance from the federal government.
I’ve spent much of this week on the ground in Iowa surveying the damage and meeting with constituents and local, state, and federal officials. The devastation caused by the flooding is incomprehensible. I respectfully ask you to approve Governor Reynolds’ request as expeditiously as possible.
I thank you for your consideration of this request, and will continue working with you and your administration to ensure Iowans receive the assistance they need.
Joni K. Ernst
United States Senator
In Case You Missed It
Tuesday, March 14, 2019
By: Kyle Rempfer, March 12, 2019
The federal government found a way to spend $97 billion in a single month last year, of which more than $61 billion can be attributed to the Pentagon.
It’s not a new phenomenon. In the last month of every fiscal year, federal agencies work to spend all that’s left in their annual budgets. If they don’t, the agencies worry they’ll be appropriated a smaller share by Congress next year, hence the “use-it or lose-it” spending sprees.
Rather than spend money on frivolous items, federal agencies like the Defense Department should admit their offices can be run on less, according to Adam Andrzejewski, founder and CEO of OpenTheBooks.
OpenTheBooks is a nonprofit aimed at bringing transparency and efficiency to the federal budget. They released a report this March detailing fiscal 2018 use-it-or-lose-it spending habits.
One of the stand-out purchases by the Pentagon included a $9,341 Wexford leather club chair purchased from the Interior Resource Group, according to the report.
The DoD also bought $32 million worth of batteries, $4.3 million worth of books and pamphlets, $220 million worth of furniture, $7.6 million worth of workout equipment and $786.3 million on “guns, ammunition and bombs.”
The Pentagon spent the most on five of those products: $124.3 million on medium caliber ammunition, $92.3 million for modification purposes, $75 million on the Paveway family of laser-guided bombs, nearly $54 million on M795 TNT, and $2.8 million on 40mm ammunition systems.
Federal agencies also like to splurge on luxury food items before the end of the fiscal year, according to the report. The Pentagon spent $2.3 million on crab, including snow crab, Alaskan king crab, and crab legs and claws, as well as another $2.3 million on lobster tail. Federal agencies also spent $293,245 on steak, to include rib eye, top sirloin and flank steak.
The DoD also spent big on public relations and marketing in September, inking $153.3 million in contracts.
The military also dropped $86.5 million on transportation contracts, of which more than $53.5 million went to passenger vehicles from Navistar Defense, the maker of Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles.
Some of the big ticket spending items are attributed to the usual major defense contractors. The Pentagon spent $8.1 billion on contracts with Lockheed Martin and $5.1 billion with Boeing in September, for instance.
Some congressional leaders have shown an interest in reigning in this type of end-of-the-year spending, “but we need more,” Andrzejewski said.
“Senators Rand Paul, Mark Warner and Joni Ernst understand Congress needs to make structural reforms to get this problem under control,” he added.
Just prior to the spending spree kicking off, a bipartisan group of senators sent a letter on Aug. 29 to the DoD’s chief financial officer warning against the wasteful spending at the end of the quarter.
“According to a recent report, with only limited time left in the current fiscal year, eight of the top 10 highest-spending federal agencies have not used as much as 40 percent of their budgets,” the lawmakers wrote in August. “Some observers have raised concerns that this year’s annual spending binge could be the biggest yet.”
And big it was. The $97 billion spent on contracts in September 2018 marks a 16 percent increase from fiscal 2017, and a 39-percent increase from fiscal 2015, according to OpenTheBooks.
To read in full, click here.
Senator Ernst Joins Bipartisan Effort For Timely DoD Audit
“It is imperative that subsequent, annual audits continue as planned.”
By U.S. Senator Joni Ernst
February 4, 2019
U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) joined Senators David Perdue (R-GA), Angus King (I-ME) and 23 bipartisan members of the U.S. Senate Armed Services and Budget Committees in sending a letter to Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan requesting his commitment to the timely completion of a full audit of the Department of Defense in FY2019.
“We commend Mr. Norquist and the Department of Defense for finishing its first-ever complete audit required by the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990. This was a critical first step to bring greater transparency and accountability to the Pentagon; however, more progress must be made to reach a clean opinion,” wrote the senators
“It is important to note that the benefits of the audit go beyond good stewardship of the taxpayer dollar,” continued the senators. “Not only will it improve business operations, but also it can enhance national security by ensuring accuracy in inventory and by identifying vulnerabilities in our cybersecurity. Ultimately, because only 5 of the 24 individual audits conducted received a passing grade, it is imperative that subsequent, annual audits continue as planned to properly measure progress.”
Senators Ernst, Perdue and King were joined by Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mike Braun (R-IN), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Tim Kaine (D-VA), John Kennedy (R-LA), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Doug Jones (D-AL), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Gary Peters (D-MI), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Rick Scott (R-FL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
View the letter here.
Ernst Week in Review
By U.S. Senator Joni Ernst
February 2, 2019
Honoring Sarah Root
On January 31, 2016, the day of her college graduation, Iowa native Sarah Root was struck and killed by an illegal immigrant who was drag racing and driving extremely drunk. After he was charged, he was not detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and instead posted bail and disappeared. Now, three years later, Sarah’s killer remains at large.
In honor of Sarah, this week, Senator Ernst took to the Senate floor to reintroduce her bill—Sarah’s Law—which would require federal law enforcement to detain illegal immigrants who are criminally charged with killing or seriously injuring another person. Ernst spoke to Fox News and Radio Iowa about the importance of getting Sarah’s Law passed.
Click here or on the image above to watch the whole interview.
Putting Iowa First
Earlier this year, the Department of Education announced an initiative that would address the inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion in schools across the country. Senator Ernst has been engaged with the Department of Education on this issue, following allegations of misreporting of seclusion and restraint within the Cedar Rapids Community School District. KCRG covered Senator Ernst’s reaction to the new initiative, which you can watch here.
On Wednesday mornings when the Senate is session, you can find Senator Joni Ernst talking with Iowans over a warm cup of coffee. This week, Ernst held her inaugural Capitol Grounds constituent coffee for 2019! Check out some photos below.
One of Senator Ernst’s favorite traditions is doing a ruck march in Washington, D.C. with fellow veterans and members of her staff to honor our nation’s veterans and servicemembers. Despite the cold weather—though not as cold as back home in Iowa—Senator Ernst pushed full-speed ahead on Wednesday night.
Ensuring the Enduring Defeat of ISIS and Al Qaeda
The Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act, which was again considered by the Senate this week, is a bill that will help reinforce our alliances in the Middle East and keep pressure on the Assad regime in Syria. Ernst cosponsored an amendment to the bill that urges the Administration to ensure conditions have been met for the enduring defeat of al Qaeda and ISIS, as well as the protection of regional partners and allies, before withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria or Afghanistan.
Making ‘em Squeal
Senator Ernst was elected to make Washington “squeal.” She is always searching for and identifying areas of waste, fraud and abuse. Each month, Ernst gives out a “Squeal Award” which recognizes a Washington expense, program or concept that’s wasteful and must be cut.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) supported ten different cat studies—funded from grants totaling $1.3 million of taxpayer money—that concluded classical music has an effect on cat behaviors. These studies do not comply with a law requiring disclosure of the cost to taxpayers for a federally funded project. Senator Ernst has asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to find out why NIH studies are refusing to disclose the cost. These cat studies are another great example of taxpayer dollars being tossed around like a “ball of yarn,” and that’s why NIH received the January Squeal Award.
Ernst Week in Review
By U.S. Senator Joni Ernst
January 5, 2019
And we’re back! The 116th Congress is now in session, and Senator Joni Ernst will be serving on the following Senate committees in this Congress:
- Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
- Committee on Armed Services
- Committee on Environment and Public Works
- Committee on the Judiciary
- Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship
Grassley, Ernst Sworn into Senate Leadership
For the first time in history, two Iowans are serving in Senate leadership. In case you missed it, in an op-ed in the Des Moines Register, Senator Grassley explains the significance of Senator Ernst’s, and his own, new leadership position.
Another prominent Iowan, Douglas Strike, was confirmed by the Senate as the U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of Iowa. The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier details Mr. Strike’s three decades of service and his new responsibilities.
Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Anniversary
December 22, 2018 marked one year since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was signed into law. According to estimates from the Iowa Department of Revenue, Iowans will save almost $1.8 billion in federal taxes in 2018, and those in Iowa who are earning between $40,000 and $80,000 will receive an average tax cut of $1,128. Senator Ernst penned an op-ed in the Telegraph Herald discussing the impact the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is having on Iowans across the state.
LTE: Senators Aim to Protect Progress in Yemen
In case you missed it, Senator Ernst, and her Iowa colleague Senator Grassley, wrote a letter to the editor of The Gazette discussing their stance on the war in Yemen and their opposition to the Yemen Resolution.
Ernst and Grassley write: “Peace talks between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels are showing significant progress. We should not put these talks — and long term peace — at jeopardy for the sake of a Resolution that is more about politics than peace.”
You can read the full letter, here.