Taxpayer dollars at work: What your U.S. senators from Georgia are doing the week ending Aug. 4
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.
Sen. Warnock GPB interview
Last week, GPB spoke with Warnock about his legislative priorities this summer. Warnock has been focused on getting legislation passed in Congress focused on a few topics, including protecting democracy with voting rights, creating an affordable insulin cap, and strengthening the aviation industry in Georgia. Here are excerpts from that conversation:
Warnock said it is important for Congress to protect citizens' voting rights after, in recent years, "terrible decisions" that have come out of the Supreme Court have "opened the floodgates" for several voter suppression laws.
Because of the examples of voter suppression tactics introduced throughout the country, Warnock reintroduced the Freedom to Vote Act of 2023 in Congress to ensure that states continue to be able to run elections.
"What we are saying in the Freedom to Vote Act is that every American ought to have a reasonable expectation that they will be able to access the franchise, and in a real sense, that's where the whole struggle has been," he told GPB. "If you think about it, for more than a century, with the passing of the 15th Amendment, African Americans, for example, had a right to vote. But there's a reason why we had to pass a voting rights law in 1965 because all that had been inscribed as an amendment and the United States Constitution's reality was that people didn't have a right to vote."
He added, "We're seeing in more recent years, despite that change, challenges with respect to access, and the Freedom to Vote Act will ensure that we have a holiday for voting. It would ensure that there's early voting weekend voting and voting by mail. We want to make sure that every eligible citizen can vote and that their vote counts."
Warnock has worked to cap the out-of-pocket cost of insulin to $35 for uninsured insulin users in Congress with the Affordable Insulin Now Act of 2023. He continues to build on the progress made on the Affordable Insulin Now Act of 2022, which capped insulin costs to $35 for insulin users on private insurance and Medicare plans.
"I think that there's movement," he said. "There's a reason why you're seeing private industry make some changes. It's the pressure that is coming from the public policy sector. So we've got to continue to lean in. Insulin should be affordable for everybody."
Warnock has worked to strengthen Georgia's aviation industry with his aviation-focused legislative package. He says that because Georgia is an aviation state, with Delta Air Lines employing thousands of Georgians and hundreds of aviation-related companies, he focuses on "protecting consumers."
"I've been focused on the future through investments and the development of sustainable aviation fuel," he said. "And I've been very focused on building the workforce of America, a diverse workforce in the aviation sector, through my airways app."
Warnock's aviation work would help improve the workforce problems Georgia's aviation currently faces with legislation like the Advancing Inclusion and Representation in the Workforce of Aviation and Transportation Systems (AIRWAYS) Act to Congress. The legislation helps the aviation workforce grow by "expanding opportunities for educational institutions and their partners to help establish a resilient and representative aviation workforce pipeline," as stated in a June 26 press release.
"We don't have enough pilots, aviation mechanics, or flight engineers," he said. "These are jobs that are vital to the aviation economy and, therefore, the Georgia economy. What shows up as a problem is also an opportunity for us to create a pathway to a viable career and prosperity for kids all over Georgia."
This week, Ossoff and Warnock worked with focused on maternal health research; uninsured patients affording insulin; specialty crop farmers; expanded health care for service members; and water projects along the Chattahoochee River.
Maternal health research
Warnock and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) introduced bipartisan legislation strengthening and expanding maternal health research efforts. The introduction comes after a recent study under the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act of 2018 found that maternal mortality rates are increasing in Georgia, and 89% of those deaths were preventable.
The Preventing Maternal Deaths Reauthorization Act of 2023 supports states in reauthorizing data collection programs "preserving maternal health throughout pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum, addressing disparities in maternal health outcomes and finding solutions to enhance health care quality and outcomes for mothers," per a July 27 statement.
On the legislation, Warnock said: "The most tender moments of one's life shouldn't also be the most painful — the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate among wealthy countries, and Georgia has nearly twice the national maternal mortality rate. Reauthorizing these data collection programs is an important piece of the puzzle. Still, we have much more to do to end this crisis, including funding bias training programs in health care systems and expanding Medicaid in all holdout states."
Uninsured patients' insulin
Warnock, with Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), released a new report showing that despite drug manufacturers' and insurers' efforts to reduce insulin prices, many insulin users still lack affordable access to insulin.
The Unaffordable Insulin: Uninsured Americans Still Face High Costs at the Pharmacy Counter for Eli Lilly’s Authorized Generic report surveyed over 300 pharmacies across the U.S. The survey reviewed "the cost and availability of Eli Lilly’s authorized generic Insulin Lispro, which it announced would cost $25 per vial — and found that uninsured Americans still face significant challenges to access affordable, generic insulin," as stated in a July 31 press release.
The survey also found that generic insulin costs nearly four times more than Lilly's $25 price, and almost half of the pharmacies surveyed did not have lower-priced generic insulins in stock.
Specialty crop farmers
Warnock and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) introduced legislation supporting Georgia specialty crop farmers by improving the critical farm safety net called the Tree Assistance Program.
As stated in an Aug. 1 press release, the Protecting America's Orchardists and Nursery Tree Growers Act expands eligibility for TAP "by lowering the mortality threshold and allowing farmers to use TAP funding to replant alternative breeds of trees or bushes."
The legislation sparked from a June Agriculture committee hearing where Warnock learned about the limitations of TAP from witnesses and assured them "his commitment to exploring how small, technical changes would help these programs work more efficiently, improve margins for producers, and help them compete with foreign imports."
Currently, TAP prohibits growers from replacing damaged bushes or trees with breed varieties more prone to disease or environmental changes because they result in higher risks.
Service member expanded health care
Ossoff held a live telephone town hall on Wednesday with the Retired Georgia Air National Guard Commander, Major General Thomas Grabowski.
He briefed Georgia veterans about expanded health benefits under the bipartisan PACT Act, signed into law last August.
Ossoff advocated for the PACT Act in Congress to extend Veteran Affairs health care benefits to veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic materials.
According to the VA, applying for PACT Act benefits has no deadline. But veterans who file their PACT Act claim, or submit their intent to file by Aug. 9, 2023, may receive benefits backdated to August 2022.
Ossoff and U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) held a press conference at Jones Bridge Park in Peachtree Corners on Thursday briefing local leaders on their work to enforce the Chattahoochee River Act.
This bipartisan legislation was one Ossoff helped pass last year that helps improve water quality, protect essential public works, and restore ecosystems at the river. The law now allows the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to work on water projects along the river.
Ossoff's national security successes
Last week, Ossoff helped the FY24 National Defense Authorization Act pass in Congress as a part of his work in leading bipartisan efforts to improve national security and the quality of life of Georgia service members, military families, and veterans.
The NDAA includes over a dozen bills and priorities that Ossoff has introduced or co-sponsored. Read more here.