COVID-19: Federal Update (7/24)
— GOP 'CARES 2.0' PACKAGE BUMPED TO NEXT WEEK AS WH REVIEWS PROPOSAL. For more details on the Senate GOP's forthcoming proposal, click here for a draft summary obtained by TRP.
— WHITE HOUSE REVOKES FAIR HOUSING RULE. The Trump administration is revoking a 2015 rule intended to encourage equity in housing.
— BLOCKBUSTER TECH HEARING LIKELY POSTPONED AS JOHN LEWIS LIES IN STATE. Monday's first-of-its-kind congressional hearing with the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook is likely to be postponed because of the announcement that the late Rep. John Lewis will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol next week.
— AZAR RENEWS COVID-19 PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY. Click here to read TRP's analysis.
Capitol Hill Update
— GOP 'CARES 2.0' PACKAGE BUMPED TO NEXT WEEK AS WH REVIEWS PROPOSAL. Senate Republicans have delayed the introduction of their 'CARES 2.0' proposal until next week while officials continue to haggle over lingering issues with the forthcoming measure Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced yesterday that while GOP lawmakers have reached an "agreement in principle" on a framework for the legislation, the Trump administration wants to take the weekend to review the details prior to engaging in negotiations with Congressional Democrats. GOP lawmakers and the White House also reportedly still need to get on the same page with respect to the unemployment insurance and stimulus payment pieces. For more details on the Senate GOP's forthcoming proposal, click here for a draft summary obtained by TRP.
— HOUSE EYES PASSAGE OF FIRST APPROPRIATIONS PACKAGE. House lawmakers will convene today to resume consideration of the first package of appropriations bills for fiscal year (FY) 2021. Members adopted more than 100 amendments to the first "minibus" measure yesterday, which includes the spending bills for Agriculture-FDA, State-Foreign Operations, Interior-Environment, and Military Construction-Veterans' Affairs. The bill is expected to pass along party lines this morning, and lawmakers will move onto a second minibus next week that includes the spending bills for Defense, Commerce-Justice-Science, Energy and Water Development, Financial Service and General Government, Homeland Security, Labor-HHS-Education, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development.
Washington Insider: What We're Reading
The Trump administration is revoking a 2015 rule intended to encourage equity in housing, a move it said would cut red tape but that critics denounced as removing barriers to racial discrimination. In a statement announcing the decision on Thursday, Ben Carson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, called the Obama-era rule “unworkable and ultimately a waste of time for localities to comply with.”
Monday's first-of-its-kind congressional hearing with the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook is likely to be postponed because of the announcement that the late Rep. John Lewis will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol next week, two sources familiar with the plans told POLITICO on Thursday. Those plans conflict with the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee's planned hearing with Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Apple's Tim Cook and Google's Sundar Pichai, scheduled to begin at noon on Monday.
The Senate on Thursday passed bipartisan legislation that would protect coronavirus relief payments from being garnished by banks and debt collectors. Senators urged the House to pass an identical version of the bill. The Senate bill can't be sent directly to the House because it's a tax bill, but if the House passes an identical bill and sends it to the Senate, the measure could be passed in the Senate and sent to President Trump, a spokesperson for Grassley said.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday took action to bolster the struggling uranium mining industry that environmentalists warn risks contaminating the West’s limited water supplies. An agreement between the agency and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission limits the EPA’s authority to regulate so-called in situ leach (ISL) recovery of uranium, which involves dissolving minerals deep underground and pumping them to the surface for processing. Environmentalists have cautioned against the method because of its risk for polluting groundwater.
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
— AZAR RENEWS COVID-19 PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar officially renewed the COVID-19 public health emergency yesterday evening. Click here to read TRP's analysis.
— 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. 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.