June 29, 2021

Warner, Kaine & Blumenthal Push for Federal Dollars to Advance Implementation of Ashanti Alert Act

WASHINGTON – With Congress preparing to take up this year’s government funding legislation, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have formally requested robust funding to ensure the full implementation of the Ashanti Alert system. This alert system was authorized through the Ashanti Alert Act, a law authored and championed by Sen. Warner to help save lives. 

“As you prepare the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 appropriations, we write to respectfully request that you work to ensure that the Department of Justice (DOJ) implements the Ashanti Alert Act of 2018 (Pub L. 115-401), and that this effort is fully funded in FY 2022,” wrote the senators in a letter to Congressional leaders in charge of distributing funding. “It is imperative that the Ashanti Alert Act receives full funding and the Department fully implement it in order to advance its goals of transforming the lives and safety of Americans. Full funding ensures that DOJ, law enforcement agencies, and relevant entities and stakeholders have the necessary resources to implement the Ashanti Alert network effectively at the soonest possible date.” 

The Ashanti Alert Act is named after Ashanti Billie, a 19-year-old woman who was abducted on her way to work at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in September 2017, and whose body was discovered in North Carolina 11 days after she was first reported missing. Due to her age, Ashanti did not meet the criteria for an Amber or Silver Alert – tools utilized by law enforcement that allow the public to assist in locating missing children or senior citizens. The law requires the Department of Justice (DOJ) to establish a national communications network, named the Ashanti Alert, that would notify the public about missing or endangered adults through radio and television broadcast systems. The law also requires the Attorney General to designate a national coordinator to work with states to establish Ashanti Alert systems and to develop voluntary guidelines that states and territories should use in creating their networks.

In their letter, the senators also praised recent progress by the DOJ, including its efforts to encourage states, territories, and tribes to adopt Ashanti Alert plans, and to assist various states in ensuring that their existing alert programs for missing adults are consistent with national Ashanti Alert guidance.  

Sen. Warner, who secured unanimous passage of this national alert system in December of 2018, has long led the fight to implement the Ashanti Alert nationwide. In August 2019, he reiterated the need for the swift implementation of the alert during a meeting with Katherine Sullivan, the then-Ashanti Alert Coordinator and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice (DOJ). In July 2020, Sen. Warner sent a letter to Governors across the country inviting their law enforcement officials to participate in a DOJ webinar to help states learn how they can begin to implement this critical program. Most recently, he helped secure $1 million in federal funding in the December 2020 emergency government funding legislation to help with the nationwide implementation of the Ashanti Alert system.

A PDF of the letter is available here. Text is available below.

 Dear Chairman Shaheen and Ranking Member Moran:

 As you prepare the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 appropriations, we write to respectfully request that you work to ensure that the Department of Justice (DOJ) implements the Ashanti Alert Act of 2018 (Pub L. 115-401), and that this effort is fully funded in FY 2022.  We appreciate that the Subcommittee included $1 million for Ashanti Alert Network funding in the FY21 spending bill, and we were pleased that President Biden, too, has recognized the importance of the Ashanti Alert in his proposed budget for FY22. 

On December 31, 2018, the Ashanti Alert Act was signed into law, after it passed both the Senate and the House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support. The law requires DOJ to establish a national communications network, named the Ashanti Alert, to assist regional and local search efforts for certain missing adults. In addition, the Ashanti Alert Act requires the Attorney General to designate a national coordinator to work with states to establish Ashanti Alert systems and to develop voluntary guidelines that states (as well as territories) should use in creating their networks.

In the FY20 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 116-93), Congress directed DOJ to report on both the status of its Ashanti Alert Act implementation efforts, as well as establish a deadline for final implementation no later than March 19, 2020.[1]  While DOJ has not yet fully implemented the program, we are glad to see recent progress.  The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), which administers the Ashanti Alert program, is assisting various states with their existing alert programs for missing adults in an effort to ensure the programs are consistent with national Ashanti Alert guidance.  Additionally, BJA is encouraging all other states, territories, and tribes to adopt Ashanti Alert plans and has identified states and tribes to serve as possible pilot sites for enhancing Ashanti alerting capabilities.  Two states, including Virginia, have adopted formal Ashanti Alert programs. 

This law was borne out of the tragic death of Ashanti Billie, a 19 year old who was abducted in Norfolk, Virginia and whose body was discovered 11 days after she was first reported missing. Because Ashanti was too old for an Amber Alert to be issued and no similar network for adults existed at the time, her parents, family, and friends struggled to get word out of her disappearance in a timely fashion. 

Thus, it is imperative that the Ashanti Alert Act receives full funding and the Department fully implement it in order to advance its goals of transforming the lives and safety of Americans. Full funding ensures that DOJ, law enforcement agencies, and relevant entities and stakeholders have the necessary resources to implement the Ashanti Alert network effectively at the soonest possible date.

We appreciate the Subcommittee’s past support for the Ashanti Alert Act, and efforts made by Subcommittee staff to ensure implementation.  We hope the Subcommittee will continue to demonstrate strong support for the Ashanti Alert Act for FY 2022.

Thank you for your consideration of our request.

Sincerely,

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[1] Rep. Nita Lowey, “Explanatory Statement Submitted by Mrs. Lowey, Chairwoman of the House Committee on Appropriations Regarding H.R. 1158, Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020,” Congressional Record, vol. 165, no. 204 – Book II, (December 17, 2019), p. H10966.