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Lamar Alexander: Tennessee University Presidents are working overtime to go back to school in August, go back safely

U.S. SenateWashington, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has announced additional federal funding this week for Tennessee. More than $7 million is now headed to 143 rural health clinics across Tennessee to help expand access to COVID-19 Coronavirus testing in rural communities. 

Those in East Tennessee who were affected by the tornadoes on April 12th-13th: The deadline to apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster assistance is June 23rd. To apply for assistance, you can click here or do so by phone: 1.800.621.3362 or TTY 800.462.7585.

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander

Some good news for Tennessee’s farmers — President Donald Trump and the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $16 billion in relief for America’s farmers, and an additional $3 billion to purchase and distribute fresh produce, dairy and meat to Americans in need. Click here for more information. 

The Scarlett’s Sunshine on Sudden Unexpected Death Act, legislation approved by the Senate health committee I chair that will provide grants to help states prevent sudden unexpected infant and child deaths, and help better understand the causes of these deaths, passed in the U.S. Senate this week. 

The U.S. Senate passed another piece of legislation approved by my committee — the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Endowment Revitalization Act – which helps minority-serving academic institutions, such as historically black colleges and universities, foster research by clarifying eligibility for the Research Endowment Program at the National Institutes of Health. 

Tennessee university presidents are working overtime to go back to school in August and go back safely 

This week, I talked with around 90 university presidents across the state of Tennessee to discuss how we can safely bring students back to campus in the fall. The question is not whether we go back to school, but how can we go back to school safely. College administrators, presidents and chancellors will have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility over the next few months to find a way to do this safely.

I often think of our schools and colleges as micro-cities. Well, I believe that the wise leadership at our Tennessee institutions has enough time to make plans to make these little cities among the safest places to live and work during the next year. And if we are able to do that, it would help our country move back toward normalcy from this COVID-19 Coronavirus crisis. The surest sign of American life regaining its rhythm will be when 20 million students go back to college.

I appreciated hearing from our states’ education leaders, and I will continue to work with them in the coming months to find a solution for our nation’s students.  

Introducing President Donald Trump’s nominees for the TVA board of directors 

The nation’s largest public utility, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), is on track to add two excellent members to their board of directors. This week, I was delighted to introduce at a Senate committee hearing President Trump’s nominees to serve on the TVA board – Beth Harwell and Brian Noland. 



They are both accomplished individuals who understand TVA’s mission is to continue to provide cheap, clean and reliable electricity throughout the Tennessee Valley. TVA is a big and important institution. It serves the residents of seven states by providing reliable electricity, and a majority of those residents are in Tennessee.

The scoreboard for TVA is in rates, and according to TVA, their residential rates are in the cheapest 25 percent of residential rates and their business rates are in the cheapest 10 percent of business rates in the country. 

Mountain bike and hiking trails along the Foothills Parkway coming to Cocke County

The Appalachian Regional Commission announced a $500,000 grant is headed to Cocke County to design mountain bike and hiking trails along the Foothills Parkway. Cocke County is one of Tennessee’s most economically distressed counties, and these mountain bike and hiking trails will bring more of the 12 million visitors who come to the Smokies each year to Cocke County, which will increase tourism and economic development opportunities in the county.

For the past several years, I have been working with Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, Senator Marsha Blackburn, the Conservation Fund, Cocke County and Sevier County officials, state representatives and officials from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee National Forest to develop mountain bike and hiking trails along the undeveloped section of the Foothills Parkway in Cocke County.

We heard some really good ideas in our roundtables, and thanks to this funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission, those ideas are going to become a reality.  


#TennesseeStrong – Tennesseans fighting back against COVID-19 

Here are some inspiring stories from this week of Tennesseans who are showing their “Volunteer Spirit” and supporting their communities:

  • Accepting the risk posed by the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak, around 100 people volunteered to place flags at the headstones of fallen soldiers at East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery. 
  • Memphis-based International Paper has committed to donate two million corrugated boxes to hunger-relief organizations. These boxes are necessary to get food to those who need it. This Memphis company also started a social media campaign to promote this cause, which you can follow with the hashtag #HelpFillTheBoxes

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