Taxpayer dollars at work: What your U.S. senators from Georgia are doing for the week ending July 27
This summer, GPB News Democracy intern Ambria Burton is following the activities of U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.
Each week on Fridays, we'll run down a list of activities that follow your dollars back to communities in Georgia.
This week, Ossoff and Warnock worked with legislation focused on financial protections for service members; A.I. protections for children; protecting journalists globally; and stopping partisan inference in elections.
Warnock, as Chair of the United States Senate Banking Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection, held a hearing on Wednesday to discuss how junk fees impact the income of consumers and smaller businesses.
Junk fees can include unnecessary fees on things like bank deposit accounts, student loans, the rental housing market, and small-dollar lending, according to a July 26 press release.
Warnock says that although some fees are necessary for funding purposes, unnecessary fees like those mentioned prior are worthless to the economy.
"We understand that many fees help fund critical services and products," he said. "But not all fees are the same. Some fees are excessively high. Some fees are unclear. And some fees exist solely so that large corporations can pad their bottom lines on the backs of hardworking families. These fees provide no economic value."
Ossoff, Warnock and Rep. Nikema Williams (GA-05) announced on Wednesday that they are delivering a $40 million grant to invest in building more affordable housing units in Atlanta.
Under the Department of Housing and Urban Developing, the grant would revive Atlanta's Bowen Homes neighborhood, which has remained abandoned since 2009.
Per a July 26 press release, "The City of Atlanta's project aims to build more than 2,000 rental and ownership units in the previously abandoned area. Developers are also planning to construct a Community Resources Center and Innovation Hub that will offer Bowen Homes' residents affordable commercial space and job-training opportunities."
The U.S. Senate approved a bipartisan amendment on Wednesday, introduced by Warnock, that would financially guarantee that Georgians and American service members are protected from harassment by debt collectors.
The Senate will add the amendment to the annual defense authorization bill that awaits their consideration.
According to the July 26 press release, the amendment places "restrictions on the types of communications debt collectors are allowed to have when interacting with service members, such as prohibiting debt collectors from making threats of rank reduction, revocation of security clearance, or military prosecution."
The amendment helps service members, who report harassment by debt collectors at a larger rate than civilians.
Warnock on the debt collector harassment: "These debt collection practices are manipulative. And they undermine our national security by distracting our service members from focusing on their missions and caring for their families."
AI protections for C\children
Ossoff, with Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), announced this week that they are launching a bipartisan inquiry protecting children from artificial intelligence-generated sexual abuse content online.
The senators request that Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice increase the resources needed to prosecute cases dealing with AI-generated child sex abuse material.
"These alarming developments are now a growing threat for vulnerable citizens and are raising concerns about the effectiveness of the current efforts by the Department of Justice to combat this crime," as stated in a July 26 press statement.
Ossoff and Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), and Todd Young (R-Ind.) introduced bipartisan legislation protecting journalists and globally improving press freedom.
The Global Press Freedom Act would "designate an Ambassador-at-Large for press freedom and train Foreign Service Officers on how to promote media independence around the world, helping protect journalists abroad," per a July 26 press release.
According to data by Reporters with Borders, 539 journalists have been detained and 13 killed this year while on the job.
Ossoff on journalists: "Every day, courageous journalists around the world put themselves in harm's way in pursuit of truth and accountability. Supporting them and preventing conditions in which atrocities can occur with impunity is in the national interest and consistent with American values."
The legislation would also set up an office at the U.S. State Department to help protect foreign journalists.
Warnock reintroduced legislation on Thursday enforcing new measures to protect local state election administrations from partisan interference and guarantee moral practices behind voter registration challenges.
The legislation comes after 20 states introduced about 78 bills centered on election interference in 2023, as stated in a Brennan Center study.
The Preventing Election Subversion Act of 2023 would protect local state election officials by only allowing removals from the state election board for cases of inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office, with a federal cause of action to enforce this standard.
The legislation would also fight voter registration challenges that overworked local election officials have to deal with. Target voter registration challenges prevent targeting specific demographics because of their beliefs and backgrounds.
"I don't want to see students targeted because people assume that they will vote one way or the other," Warnock said to GPB's Ambria Burton. "I don't want to see African Americans and other minorities like Latinos targeted and to have their vote challenged by these organized efforts to sow chaos in the process."
Rural health care
Warnock announced on Wednesday a collective of federal grants from the American Rescue Plan to help build a stronger health care system in rural Georgia.
The grant will award about $2.3 million to help rural health care systems in Coffee, Jefferson, Emanuel, Wilkes, Washington, Twiggs, and Taylor counties.
As stated in a July 26 press release, the grant will do the following:
- Expand telehealth services to hub and end-user sites across Jefferson, Emanuel, Wilkes, and Washington counties with $1 million going to the Georgia Health Information Network Inc.
- Invest in enhancing its facilities for surgeries and procedures for the Coffee Regional Medical Center
- Construct a permanent Health Education Center and Clinic for chronic diseases for Twiggs County Development
- Acquire equipment for a primary care facility for Mercer University in Macon
The USDA will administer the funds through the Rural Development's Community Facilities Program under its Emergency Rural Health Care Grants Program, available through the American Rescue Plan.