U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran was the guest and keynote speaker of the Dodge City Rotary Club on Monday at the United Wireless Arena.
Moran shared his topical thoughts with the audience before accepting questions, starting with telling everyone that the Senate is on 24-hour notice and is discussing a possible next phase for COVID-19 relief.
Moran said he wouldn’t write off another agreement after negotiations but thinks it will be much more difficult to pass a fourth-phase plan than it was to pass the more easily agreed upon first three phases.
He said that despite the perceived consequences of the CARES Act, it passed 96-0.
"So I’ve moved my view that this is not about doing another $3 trillion bill, it’s about finding things we can do to solve some problems in a focused way that doesn’t try to solve everything," Moran said. "We don’t have the capability of just spending ourselves to just being normal again."
Moran said he thinks the most important thing to do is get people in a better position to get back to normal, so he supports testing and vaccine efforts.
He said discussion about a vaccine should include how to manufacture it and, more importantly, how to distribute it and how to prioritize who gets it, stating that it will "not be a solution that occurs all simultaneously for every person in the country."
Moran said he supports helping reopen schools in a responsible, healthy and oriented way and getting parents comfortable enough to allow their children to attend school.
He said economic shutdowns should not be a federal decision but occur at a local level, reasoning that every state and its counties are different.
Moran is chairman of the Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs, and despite not being a veteran he advocates for veterans on many issues surrounding veteran care, namely suicide rates and mental health.
He said 20 veterans a day die by suicide and the Committee on Veteran Affairs has an opportunity to make a difference. The Senate recently passed a Veterans Suicide and Mental Health Bill that is currently pending in the House.
"If I can sum it up in just a couple of sentences, provides resources to local organizations," Moran said. "Could be a VFW, American Legion, or a local mental health organization, could be a church group, people who are going to engage in veterans’ lives, because services, particularly for mental health, that are far away are very unlikely to solve the problem for somebody who is in crisis at the moment."
Moran said that when he represented Kansas’ 1st Congressional District, his mission was to establish outpatient clinics in Kansas, in lieu of the absence of a veteran hospital in the district.
Still, traveling to these outpatient facilities is difficult for veterans and often contingent on distance.
In response, Moran said, he and the Department of Veterans Affairs have pushed for "community care," through the MISSION Act, to replace and circumvent what he perceives as the narrow interpretations of the previous CHOICE Act — namely, doing away with the mileage requirement to receive outpatient help under the CHOICE Act.
Essentially, he said, this puts more power in the hands of veterans for them to discuss how and where they receive their care.
Moran said he is trying to keep rural America around a lot longer and that health care access is critical for that. The more money is spent on local health care, the more it will benefit everyone, he said.
Northwest Elementary fifth-grade teacher Eugene Struzik asked if there was a way to mitigate the excessive trouble with VA billing.
Moran said that while third-party administrators have been taken out of the billing process, so now the bill comes from a veteran’s direct health care providers to the VA, there is still going to be a challenge. He said that should the need arise, he will continue to work to save veterans the burden of trying to get the VA’s attention.
Dave Bergmeier, managing editor of the High Plains/Ag Journal, asked the senator about the current status of the U.S. Postal Service delays and how that can be remedied.
Moran said he has communicated with the Postal Service and affected businesses across Kansas and surmised that when the mail processing plant in Kansas was lost, so was the adequate time to ensure timely mail delivery.
Moran said his activities with USPS are limited because it is not taxpayer funded.
He also posited that people’s use of the internet has facilitated the diminishing use and revenue decline of the post office.
"My message to postmaster generals in the past has been, ’The solution to your problems can’t be reducing service where you’re going to lose even more customers,’ " Moran said. "People will find a different way — UPS, FedEx and others."
Moran said he had teamed up with other legislators in the past to bring the Postal Service back to optimal financial condition but said that was superseded by COVID-19’s impact rather than the internet.
He also said people are ordering so many packages because of COVID-19 that mail carriers must make multiple trips to and from their docking stations to a single particular area because of the volume of packages, so time spent in one recipient area is significantly increased.
"It’s terribly inefficient," Moran said, adding he has been told that 500 trucks have caught on fire over the last couple of years because of this.
Moran said he intends to visit the mail processing plant in Wichita later in the week to observe operations and talk to the people who sort the mail.
Additionally, Moran said the postmaster general is refusing to meet with members of Congress.
On the topic of preventing human trafficking, Moran said legislators are exploring what they could do at the legislative level.
He says he has been meeting with Kansans and organizations actively working to reduce human trafficking in the state.
"But it takes a lot of education and, really, local effort to keep people from putting themselves in a position in which they become part of human trafficking," Moran said. "And when we convict someone of human trafficking, they pay a price and it keeps them from doing it again and also sends a message that this is not worth it."
He said it is troublesome, especially with Kansas perceived as a hotspot for human trafficking because of its many highways and back roads.
Moran said the most challenging thing about fighting human trafficking in Kansas is awareness and that people commonly think it is not an issue in their hometown.
Moran said his discussions with law enforcement have shown him that law enforcement is increasing the priority of human trafficking crimes and that the FBI has prioritized combating it further by working with state and local law enforcement.