Taxpayer dollars at work: What your U.S. senators from Georgia are doing the week ending Sept. 1
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.
The U.S. Senate is in recess until September 5, 2023, and is currently in a state work period.
This week, Ossoff and Warnock focused on providing fire safety resources across Georgia, addressing the shortages in chemotherapy drugs, pushing for student loan debt cancellations, and ensuring Georgians were prepared for Hurricane Idalia.
As Hurricane Idalia began moving across South Georgia on Wednesday, Sens. Ossoff and Warnock urged the Biden Administration to send federal disaster recovery assistance to South Georgia as soon as possible when Gov. Brian Kemp requests it.
As stated in an August 31 press release, "With reports coming out of many south Georgia communities, including Valdosta, where the scope of damage has left thousands of Georgians without power, debris blocking roadways, housing infrastructure compromised, and farmers' crops devastated, an effective response may be beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments."
In the letter, Warnock and Ossoff wrote: "At this time, the total cost and scale of the damage are unknown, and state, local, and Federal officials continue to assess the situation while engaging in recovery efforts, but should the Governor of Georgia request Federal disaster assistance for Georgia counties impacted by Hurricane Idalia, we write to request that you issue it expeditiously."
Sen. Ossoff also encouraged Georgians to prepare for storms with a few tips:
- Prepare a ready kit in case you lose power or have to evacuate — including non-perishable food, water, a first aid kit, any medicines you may need, flashlights, and batteries.
- Make a family evacuation plan — know where you will go if ordered to evacuate from your homes.
- Make a family communications plan.
- Prepare to secure your home or business.
For more updates on Hurricane Idalia's impact and aftermath, read GPB's coverage here.
Sen. Warnock, with U.S. Representative Buddy Carter (R-CA), led a bipartisan delegation of Congressional Georgia lawmakers to urge the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make their efforts in addressing the shortage of chemotherapy drugs more apparent.
The push came after the FDA released a December 2022 report on the failures of the Intas Pharmaceuticals production plant in India, which is a major manufacturer of the chemotherapy drugs cisplatin and carboplatin. Intas Pharmaceuticals' production plant holds over 50% of the United States supply of cisplatin.
The plant ended up closing, leading to a shortage of cisplatin and carboplatin and increasing the demand for other chemotherapy drugs.
The FDA is working with other foreign drug manufacturers to help with chemotherapy drug shortages but "has not provided clear details on when additional imports will begin and in what quantity," per an August 28 press release.
In the letter to FDA Commissioner Califf, the delegation wrote: "We have heard from cancer patients and doctors across Georgia who are confronting these shortages. Providers at cancer centers have started to alter treatment programs and delay preferred therapies due to limited drug availability."
They added, "Georgia cancer patients and their doctors deserve to choose treatment based on best evidence and what works for the patient without the additional burden of worrying about the availability and safety of drugs."
Student Loan Debt
Sen. Warnock also led a group of bicameral lawmakers to urge President Joe Biden via letter to deliver his campaign promise of canceling the student debt of working and middle-class families.
The push comes after a year since President Biden shared that the Supreme Court blocked his initial plan to cancel $20,000 in student loan debt for many.
Along with Sen. Warnock, the following U.S. Congressional lawmakers led the writing of the letter: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Alex Padilla (D-CA) and U.S. Representatives Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Jim Clyburn (D-SC), and Frederica Wilson (D-FL).
They wrote to President Biden: "Although the Supreme Court has chosen to stand in the way of your initial student debt relief plan, we recognize that as President of the United States, you have additional tools to provide relief. Working and middle-class families need this relief to come as soon as possible. We urge you to continually find ways to use your authority to bring down student debt, address the rising cost of college, and make postsecondary education affordable for all students who choose that path."
Student loan payments will resume for many beginning September through October.
Both Sens. Warnock and Ossoff announced they are providing upgrades for fire safety throughout several regions and areas across Georgia.
Those areas include Atkinson County; Middle Georgia; Blackshear; Columbus and West Point; and Metro Atlanta and North Georgia.
The resources for the fire departments were from last year's government funding package.
The senators will deliver over $100,000 to Atkinson County under the Federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program. Atkinson County will use the resources to keep and hire firefighters.
Crawford County and the Allentown Volunteer Fire Department will get funding from the Federal Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program.
Funding will provide “professional training, wellness and fitness programs, equipment, personal protective equipment (PPE), and modifications to facilities,” as stated in an August 29 statement.
The Federal Fire Prevention and Safety Grant (FP&S) program will also provide funding to the Allentown Volunteer Fire Department to hold fire prevention education and training, and the SAFER program is also sending funds to the Town of Toomsboro and Wilkinson County to keep and hire more firefighters.
Sens. Ossoff and Warnock secured over $200,000 in funds for the City of Blackshear Fire Department to replace their self-contained breathing apparatus units needed for firefighters to respond to emergencies.
The senators secured funding through the AFG program.
Columbus and West Point
The Columbus Consolidated Government and the City of West Point will receive funding, also under the AFG program, "for professional training, wellness and fitness programs, equipment, personal protective equipment, and modification to facilities," per an August 29 press release.
Columbus will get over $300,000 in funding, and West Point will get over $200,000 for those resources.
Metro Atlanta and North Georgia
The Town of Homer; City of Rossville; Heard County; and Union City are also getting funding through the AFG program “for professional training, wellness and fitness programs, equipment, personal protective equipment, and modification to facilities.”
The SAFER program will send funds to the Town of Homer to retain and hire firefighters.
In addition, the City of Fayetteville will get funding for fire prevention education and training under the FP&S program.
A summary of the federal funding grant awards:
In Operations and Safety
- Town of Homer - $90,904.76
- Rossville City Government - $141,523.02
- County of Heard - $453,143.14
- City of Union City - $420,865.89
Recruitment and Retention
- Town of Homer - $102,000.00
Fire Prevention and Safety
- City of Fayetteville - $60,590.27