WASHINGTON (WAVY) — U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have formally requested funding to ensure the full implementation of the Ashanti Alert system.

The Ashanti Alert system was authorized through the Ashanti Alert Act. the senators are to squeeze the request as Congress prepares to take up this year’s government funding legislation.

 “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,” the senators wrote to Congress. “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.”

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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. 

Read the full letter HERE.

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.

Her body was later 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 an interview with 10 On Your Side’s Kara Dixon, Senator Warner says the issue hasn’t been one just about funding.

“This is only partially a money issue. It really is focus issue. One of the thing I’ve made clear to the DOJ nominees is this is a top priority for me,” he said. ” I’m going to stay on top of the DOJ until they full implement the program.”

Warner, who co-sponsored the bill through the Senate, says it is a disgrace that something so simple, which had bipartisan support, has not been implemented.

“It shouldn’t be this hard. Law enforcement organizations are connected with the Amber Alert, the Silver Alert. There’s also an alert about missing police officers. They meet on a regular basis. All we need to do is say build out the software to include people who fall in this gap from 19 to 64. It’s the question of being a priority. It’s been very frustrating with the last administration giving lip service,” he said.

He’s hoping that action will be taken because the alert has proved in Virginia it’s saved lives.

“If we can prevent the tragedy that took place with Ashanti Billie, if we can spare one family the grief the Billie family had to go through with getting the community involved in trying to find these missing persons, we’ve done the right thing. The thing that’s been frustrating is this has been the law of our country since 2018. We’ve been pushing the rock up the hill,” he said.

Last year, the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance announced $1 million would be available for states for technical assistance with the alert.

Grant funding is still available.