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COVID-19: Federal Update (7/23)

Quick Takes

— REPUBLICANS LOOK TO TIE UP LOOSE ENDS ON FORTHCOMING COVID-19 RELIEF PACKAGE. For more details on the Senate GOP's forthcoming proposal, click here for a list of provisions obtained by TRP.

— MNUCHIN: PAYROLL TAX CUT WON'T BE IN SENATE REPUBLICAN CORONIVIRUS STIMULUS BILL. The measure could be included in future coronavirus relief bills.

— TEA PARTY RISES UP AGAINST MCCONNELL'S $1 TRILLION RELIEF PLAN. The debate over the size of the next coronavirus relief bill is reopening the same divisions within the Republican Party that spawned the Tea Party movement more than a decade ago

CMS ALLOCATES ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR NURSING HOMES. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the agency will allocate additional resources for nursing homes to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Capitol Hill Update

— REPUBLICANS LOOK TO TIE UP LOOSE ENDS ON FORTHCOMING COVID-19 RELIEF PACKAGE. Details on the Senate Republicans' opening offer for the next round of COVID-19 legislation are starting to trickle out, yet lingering issues have delayed the official introduction of the measure. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) is expected to provide roughly $303 billion in supplemental appropriations to address needs pertaining to the pandemic, with about $235 billion of that funding going toward Labor-Health and Human Services (HHS). Other key highlights that have emerged include up to $105 billion in education funding, $25 billion toward bolstering the nation's testing regime, and another round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans targeted for businesses with 300 workers or less. While the proposal could be released as soon as today, additional negotiations on the unemployment insurance and stimulus payment pieces could push this work into the weekend and delay the bill's introduction until early next week. For more details on the Senate GOP's forthcoming proposal, click here for a list of provisions obtained by TRP.

— HOUSE QUEUES UP FIRST APPROPRIATIONS PACKAGE.House lawmakers will convene today to begin consideration of the first package of appropriations bills for fiscal year (FY) 2021. The first "minibus" measure includes the spending bills for Agriculture-FDA, State-Foreign Operations, Interior-Environment, and Military Construction-Veterans' Affairs. Members are expected to focus on amendments to the underlying bill today, with a vote on final passage at some point tomorrow. Meanwhile, the Senate will resume consideration of its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Washington Insider: What We're Reading

Senate Republicans won’t include a payroll tax cut, a measure long sought by President Trump, in the coronavirus relief legislation they are planning to release publicly on Thursday amid opposition from lawmakers of both parties. “It won’t be in the base bill,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said during a Thursday interview with CNBC, adding that the measure could be included in future coronavirus relief bills.

The debate over the size of the next coronavirus relief bill is reopening the same divisions within the Republican Party that spawned the Tea Party movement more than a decade ago, putting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in a delicate spot. McConnell is up for reelection this fall in Kentucky, a state that has been a hotbed of Tea Party activism over the past 10-plus years. His home state colleague, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a Tea Party favorite, is taking an outspoken stand against another large federal relief package.

New weekly claims for unemployment insurance rose for the first time since March last week as more than 1.4 million Americans applied for jobless benefits for the first time amid the second surge of coronavirus cases, according to the Department of Labor.In the week ending July 18, seasonally adjusted initial claims for jobless benefits totaled 1,416,000. Another 975,000 people applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a program for those that don’t qualify for traditional jobless benefits, that week, bringing the total number of new weekly claims above 2.3 million.

The House easily passed legislation Wednesday to establish permanent funding for a broadly popular land conservation program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, leaping past objections from oil-state members and pleasing environmental groups, the Interior Secretary and at-risk Republican senators. Passage marks a boon for Sens. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., both locked in competitive reelection campaigns in their home states, who have pointed to the bill as a bipartisan measure with benefits for their constituents. President Donald Trump, whom the pair of GOP senators nudged to support the bill at a White House meeting by showing him pictures of beautiful national park landscapes, is expected to sign the bill.

COVID-19: What We're Hearing

— 'CARES 2.0' STATE OF PLAY. Lawmakers are mulling over several policy options for the next round of legislation, including:

  • Liability. In a draft summary of the liability section obtained by TRP, the Senate GOP's proposal would insulate health care, education, government, and business entities from lawsuits retroactive to December 2019 through 2024 unless there is proof of "gross negligence and intentional misconduct."

    • For personal liability and medical cases, the plan would require a "clear-and-convincing-evidence burden of proof," would place a cap threshold on damages, and would heighten pleading standards. It would also limit liability for new products, such as types of PPE, if they meet established Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards.

    • While these policies are subject to future negotiation and change, Leader McConnell has continuously emphasized that any future COVID-19 relief efforts must include these protections in order for the Senate to consider additional relief legislation.

  • Education. Reports suggest that the GOP's bill will also contain $50-$100 billion in education funding, and could either be attached with conditions or incentives for schools to develop concrete reopening plans in the fall.

  • Health Care Priorities. One of the key areas of bipartisan agreement among the negotiating parties is the need to address existing and emerging health care needs as a result of the pandemic, as well as shoring up the nation's testing regime. These priorities are expected to be reflected in the Senate GOP's forthcoming proposal, and are also reflected in the House-passed HEROES Act.

  • Payroll Tax Cut. The Trump administration emphasized that the next COVID-19 relief bill must include a payroll tax cut in order for it to earn the president's signature. While this has been a priority for President Trump throughout the pandemic response efforts. the proposal has received a chilly reception from Members on both sides of the aisle.

  • Unemployment Reform. Congressional Republicans have spearheaded efforts on reforming the enhanced unemployment benefits so that generous payments approved in the CARES Act don’t become an obstacle to rehiring workers. Democrats, on the other hand, have emphasized that the enhanced unemployment insurance benefits must be a part of the next round of relief legislation.

    • Senate Republicans have expressed openness to lowering the unemployment boost from $600 to the $200-$400 range. Another compromise option could be enhancing a tax credit that would give employers a tax break for keeping workers on the payroll.

  • Stimulus Payments. President Trump stated recently that he is open to another round of direct economic impact payments, saying that he wants “larger numbers than the Democrats” have offered. Leader McConnell has also expressed openness for another round of stimulus payments that would be targeted toward individuals making $40,000 a year or less.

  • PPP. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) application process has officially been reopened thanks to swift action by Congress. House and Senate lawmakers were able to clinch unanimous consent agreements on a bill that would reopen the application process for the roughly $134 billion remaining in the signature small business rescue program, pushing the application deadline from June 30 to August 18. lawmakers are already eyeing additional PPP reforms in the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation.

    • Small Business Committee Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) is drafting additional PPP legislation that would create new programs to expand the use of the remaining funds within the program, including a $25 billion set-aside for businesses with fewer than 10 employees.

    • Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) have introduced a bill that would extend the PPP application deadline by six months and authorize new lending for businesses with fewer than 100 employees.

    • Additionally, there has been a bipartisan push in Congress to expand PPP eligibility to 501(c)6 organizations and other currently ineligible nonprofits in the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation.

  • State and Local Governments. Funding for state and local governments is a key pillar of the Democrats' next stimulus bill. While there is bipartisan agreement that more needs to be done to help stymie economic hardships for these entities, allocating additional funding has become a divisive issue within the Republican conference.

    • It appears likely that some Senate Republicans — particularly those who are up for re-election — would coalesce behind a bipartisan proposal that would provide additional funding and flexibility to address needs at the state and local level.

  • Budget Reform. A bipartisan group of House lawmakers penned a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) calling for provisions that address the federal debt and trust funds for Medicare and Social Security to be included in the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation.

COVID-19 Legislative & Regulatory Trackers


CMS ALLOCATES ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR NURSING HOMES. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the agency will allocate additional resources for nursing homes to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes $5 billion in funding from the Provider Relief Fund for Medicare-certified long term care facilities and state veterans’ homes, as well as a requirement that all nursing homes in states with a five percent positivity rate or greater test all nursing home staff each week.

HHS ISSUES REPORTING GUIDANCE FOR PROVIDER RELIEF FUND. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released initial information for the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) reporting requirements, including the timing for submissions. HHS indicated that detailed guidance and materials will be released by August 17, 2020.


— HHS ANNOUNCES NEW NATIONAL TESTING IMPLEMENTATION FORUM. HHS announced the rollout of a new National Testing Implementation Forum. The Forum will bring together representatives from key stakeholder groups to share information and provide input to federal leaders about the virus, testing and diagnostics.

— HHS, DOD TO PROCURE PFIZER COVID-19 VACCINE. HHS and the Department of Defense (DoD) announced an agreement with Pfizer Inc. for large-scale production and nationwide delivery of 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine in the United States following the vaccine’s successful manufacture and approval.

— WAYS AND MEANS REPUBLICANS CIRCULATE TELEHEALTH DISCUSSION DRAFT. The Republicans of the House Ways & Means Committee issued a discussion draft of a bill to make permanent several of the temporary telehealth flexibilities implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here to read TRP's analysis of this legislation.

— HHS OCR ISSUES GUIDANCE ON CIVIL RIGHTS PROTECTIONS DURING COVID-19. The Department of Health And Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) issued guidance to ensure that recipients of federal financial assistance understand that they must comply with applicable federal civil rights laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in HHS-funded programs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

— HHS ANNOUNCES DISTRIBUTION OF $10B FOR HIGHLY IMPACTED HOSPITALS. HHS announced that it would distribute $10B to hospitals in COVID-19 hotspots beginning this week. Click here to read TRP's updated provider relief fund memo.

· This distribution, which was first announced June 8, is based on data that HHS collected from hospitals in June detailing COVID-19 admissions through June 10. In addition, the agency extended the deadline for Medicaid and CHIP providers to apply for relief funds from June 20 to August 3.

— FDA APPROVES FIRST GROUP COVID-19 TEST. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization for pooled COVID-19 testing. The Quest Diagnostic test is the first COVID-19 diagnostic test to be authorized for use with pooled samples.

— FED EXPANDS MAIN STREET LENDING PROGRAM TO INCLUDE NONPROFITS. The Federal Reserve announced that it will expend its Main Street Lending Program to provide greater access to credit for nonprofit organizations such as educational institutions, hospitals, and social service organizations.

— CFPB PUBLISHES REPORT ON COVID-RELATED CONSUMER COMPLAINTS. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) published an analysis of the more than 8,000 complaints it received from January through May that specifically pertain to the COVID-19 pandemic.

— FED EXTENDS PPP-RELATED RULE CHANGE. The Federal Reserve announced an extension of a rule change aimed at bolstering the effectiveness of the Small Business Administration's (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The extension will temporarily modify the Board's rules so that certain bank directors and shareholders can apply to their banks for PPP loans for their small businesses.

— CMS PUBLISHES OVERVIEW OF TELEHEALTH UTILIZATION. In a blog post in the Journal Health Affairs, CMS Administrator Verma provides an overview of CMS’ analysis of telehealth utilization among Medicare beneficiaries during the pandemic.

— HHS CHANGES PROCESS FOR HOSPITALS TO REPORT COVID-19 DATA. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced changes to its process for collecting daily COVID-19-related data from hospitals, starting today. HHS plans to use this data to inform decisions at the federal level, such as allocation of supplies, treatments, and other resources.

CMS EXTENDS COMPLIANCE DEADLINE FOR MEDICAID HCBS SETTINGS RULE. CMS announced it was extending the deadline to March 17, 2023, for ensuring compliance with the Home and Community-Based Settings Regulation, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

— CMS ALLOCATES ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR NURSING HOMES. CMS announced plans to provide additional resources to nursing homes COVID-19 hotspots.

· Specifically, the agency plans to deploy Quality Improvement Organizations (QIOs) across the country to provide immediate assistance to nursing homes in the hotspot areas as identified by the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

— HHS PLANS TO DISTRIBUTE RAPID POC TESTING EQUIPMENT TO NURSING HOMES.HHS announced a large-scale procurement of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) -authorized rapid point-of-care diagnostic test instruments and tests to be distributed to nursing homes in COVID-19 hotspot geographic areas.

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