COVID-19: Federal Update (9/10)
— SENATE DEMS SET TO BLOCK GOP'S TARGETED PANDEMIC RELIEF BILL. The measure is not expected to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to advance the measure for full consideration on the floor.
— TRUMP DRILLING REVERSAL COULD BOOST COASTAL GOP SENATORS. Trump on Tuesday signed a memorandum instructing his interior secretary to prohibit drilling in the waters off both Florida coasts, and off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina, for a period of 10 years.
— FDA ISSUES NEW USE AUTHORIZATIONS FOR COVID-19 DRUGS. The notice also revoked the EUA for oral formulations of chloroquine phosphate and hydroxychloroquine sulfate.
Capitol Hill Update
— SENATE DEMS SET TO BLOCK GOP'S TARGETED PANDEMIC RELIEF BILL.Senators will convene for legislative business today as the GOP Conference looks to move its "targeted" COVID-19 relief bill. The package — which includes Republican priorities on child care, liability protections, health care, education, and small business — is not expected to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to advance the measure for full consideration on the floor. Senate Democrats are largely expected to vote against the bill as they continue to push for a more robust stimulus effort, and it still remains to be seen whether Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has the support of all GOP Senators on this vote. With negotiations on the next round of relief at a standstill, the likelihood of additional pandemic-related legislation getting passed during the remainder of the 116th Congress is continuing to decrease. For more on the Senate GOP's bill, click here to read TRP's analysis.
Washington Insider: What We're Reading
With one stroke, President Donald Trump’s abrupt reversal on offshore drilling this week has loosened a political vise that was tightening around three Republicans senators running for reelection in coastal states where drilling is widely opposed. Trump on Tuesday signed a memorandum instructing his interior secretary to prohibit drilling in the waters off both Florida coasts, and off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina, for a period of 10 years. For Trump, it was a dramatic about-face on a major policy decision, but one that could yield election-year dividends in key coastal states like Florida.
The Trump administration’s decision to require the deferral of payroll taxes for federal workers and military members is creating more divisions around the president’s attempt to provide short-term economic relief for workers during the coronavirus pandemic. While many private sector employers are not expected to defer their employees’ Social Security payroll taxes under Trump’s order, the federal government is making it mandatory for its employees. Federal agencies have indicated that the deferral will apply to all eligible civilian employees and service members.
With the Senate poised to vote Thursday on a slender GOP coronavirus relief bill that's certain to fail, chances for a bipartisan deal on new economic stimulus look more remote than ever. This impasse has prompted top White House officials to consider a new round of executive actions that they hope could direct funding to certain groups amid fears that the nascent economic recovery could fail to gain momentum.
The U.S. government on Monday will stop conducting enhanced screening of passengers on inbound international flights for COVID-19, Yahoo News has learned. The screening operations have been held at select airports since January, when the first cases of the disease began to emerge from Wuhan, China. Since March, incoming international flights from select high-risk countries, including much of Europe, China and Iran, among other regions, have been funneled through 15 designated airports in the United States.
COVID-19: What We're Hearing
— PANDEMIC EXECUTIVE ORDERS. With negotiations on the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation at a standstill, President Donald Trump issued a series of executive orders on pandemic-related priorities. The orders seek to restore the enhanced federal unemployment benefits at a rate lower than the CARES Act allocation, defer payroll taxes until early 2021, renew the moratorium on evictions, and continue deferring student loan payments and accrued interest under the CARES Act statute. The executive actions do not touch on any health-specific priorities such as testing and treatment, nor do they address liability-related issues — leaving employers at risk of litigation until a compromise deal is hammered out.
Details on the orders include:
· Unemployment Insurance. This order seeks to extend the pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) established by the CARES Act, lowering the weekly bonus from $600 to $400. The administration calls on states to front 25 percent of the cost — equivalent to $100 toward the weekly benefit — with the federal government covering the remaining 75 percent. To fund the revamped PUA, the White House outlined hundreds of billions in federal funding that the administration plans to “reprogram” in a manner similar to the way it has diverted Pentagon funding for wall construction on the U.S.-Mexico border. The president says he will tap into roughly $80 billion in unallocated money from the CARES Act State, Local, and Tribal Coronavirus Relief Fund, as well as more than $40 billion from the Federal Emergency Management’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund, to fund these efforts.
· Payroll Tax. This order directs the Treasury Department to allow employers to defer payment of employee-side Social Security payroll taxes through the end of 2020 for employees earning less than about $100,000 annually. While the text of the EO states that the intended deferral period would start Sept. 1, President Trump suggested that it could be retroactive to Aug. 1, saying that he hopes to forgive the deferred payroll taxes and make permanent payroll tax cuts if he is reelected in November. While the tax code does give the Treasury secretary authority to delay tax filing and collection amid presidentially-declared disasters, it remains to be seen whether employers will stop withholding payroll taxes given the risk of future liability. Critics of this particular order have also expressed concerns about the impact this action could have on both the short and long-term solvency of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds.
· Housing. This EO outlines potential policy actions that federal agencies could take to address housing evictions during the balance of the pandemic, but does not offer an explicit pause on evictions. Specifically, the order instructs agencies to: (1) consider whether halting evictions will help stem the spread of COVID-19 across state lines; (2) identify funds available to provide temporary financial assistance to renters and homeowners; (3) promote the ability of renters and homeowners to avoid eviction or foreclosure by encouraging and providing assistance to public housing authorities, affordable housing owners, landlords, and recipients of Federal grant funds in minimizing evictions and foreclosures; and (4) review all existing authorities and resources that may be used to prevent evictions and foreclosures for renters and homeowners. Congressional Democrats reportedly agree that the president does have the authority to address housing evictions via executive order, but are unlikely to be satisfied with what they would consider to be the administration’s watered-down approach in this executive action.
· Student Loans. This order directs the Department of Education to take the necessary steps to continue the CARES Act policy that temporarily pauses payments and waives interest on student loans held by the Department until Dec. 31. The EO does not, however, specifically reference student loan debt collection or counting non-payments toward public service loan forgiveness, both of which were included in the CARES Act. Additionally, the EO does not offer coverage for federal student loan borrowers whose debt is held by private lenders or their colleges — a priority that Congressional Democrats have sought in the COVID-19 relief talks.
— HEALS Act. Senate Republicans officially introduced their opening offer for the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation following days of intraparty negotiations between GOP Senators and White House officials. The legislative package was officially released as multiple pieces of legislation, with six total sections:
COVID-19 Legislative & Regulatory Trackers
— FDA ISSUES NEW USE AUTHORIZATIONS FOR COVID-19 DRUGS. The Food and Drug Administration issued new emergency use authorizations (EUA) for drugs for use during the
COVID-19 pandemic. The notice subsequently revoked the EUA for oral formulations of chloroquine phosphate and hydroxychloroquine sulfate.
— ASPR PUBLISHES GUIDE ON DISCHARGE PLANNING FOR ADULTS WITH DISABILITIES. The Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response recently published Discharge Planning and Care Coordination during the COVID-19 Pandemic, a tool designed to support nurses, social workers, case managers, and others conducting discharge planning for adults with disabilities after COVID-19 treatment.
— HHS ISSUES RFI ON SURGE CAPACITY FOR COVID-19 TESTING. The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published a request seeking information on the ability of Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA)-certified/accredited commercial, academic, medical center, and public health laboratories to feasibly provide additional COVID-19 testing capability if supplementary testing instruments were made available.
— FED OPENS MAIN STREET LENDING FACILITY UP TO NONPROFITS. The Federal Reserve announced that the central bank has opened up its Main Street Lending Facility to eligible nonprofit entities.
— HHS ANNOUNCES $2 BILLION INCENTIVE PAYMENT PLAN FOR NURSING HOME PROVIDER RELIEF FUNDS. HHS announced details of a $2 billion Provider Relief Fund (PRF) performance-based incentive payment distribution to nursing homes.
· Nursing homes will not have to apply to receive a share of this $2 billion incentive payment allocation; HHS will be measuring nursing home performance through required nursing home data submissions and distributing payments based on these data.
— TREASURY UPDATES CORONAVIRUS RELIEF FUND FAQS. The Treasury Department updated its list of frequently asked questions on the State, Local, and Tribal Coronavirus Relief Fund.
· New questions and answers pertaining to the use of funds for school reopenings, critical public health infrastructure, allowable expenditures not accounted for in the most recent budget, and National Environmental Policy Act projects (Questions A. 53-56) were posted yesterday evening.
· Questions related to restrictions on transfers of funds to local governments (Question A. 34) and covering hazard pay for employees (Question A. 38) were amended.
— NIH ANNOUNCES NEW CONTRACT FUNDING TO BOOST COVID-19 TESTING. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced $129.3 million in contract funding for a new set of COVID-19 testing technologies as part of its Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative.
· The contracts have been awarded to nine companies for technologies that include portable point-of-care tests for immediate results and high-throughput laboratories that can return results within 24 hours.
— CDC EXERCISES QUARANTINE AUTHORITY TO HALT EVICTIONS. In response to President Trump's executive order aimed at extending the moratorium on housing evictions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order under the agency's quarantine authority that temporarily halts residential evictions to prevent further spread of COVID-19 until Dec. 31, 2020.
— NATIONAL ACADEMY OF MEDICINE RELEASES PRELIMINARY FRAMEWORK FOR VACCINE DISTRIBUTION. The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine released a preliminary framework for COVID-19 vaccine distribution. The draft elaborates on lessons learned from past vaccine campaign strategies for allocating scarce resources during the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here to read TRP's summary of the framework.
— TRICARE TO COVER INVESTIGATIONAL COVID-19 DRUGS. The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs issued an interim final rule (IFR) designed to bolster TRICARE coverage during the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here to read TRP's summary of the rule.
— HHS ANNOUNCES DISTRIBUTION FOR ASSISTED LIVING FACILITIES. HHS announced that assisted living facilities (ALFs) may now apply for funding under the Provider Relief Fund Phase 2 General Distribution allocation.
— FDA ANNOUNCES COVID-19 ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that a public meeting of the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee will be held on Oct. 22, 2020, to discuss the development, authorization, and/or licensure of vaccines indicated to prevent COVID-19.
— HHS OUTLINES LIABILITY PROTECTIONS FOR NURSING HOMES TO ADMINISTER ASYMPTOMATIC COVID-19 TESTING. HHS issued guidance outlining legal protections for health providers who administer COVID-19 tests to screen people without symptoms in group living facilities such as nursing homes.
— TRUMP ADMINISTRATION ISSUES GUIDANCE ON PAYROLL TAX EO. The Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued guidance outlining implementation steps for the President's executive order on the payroll tax deferral. The guidance postpones some payroll taxes that would normally be due between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31 and makes them due between Jan. 1 and April 30, 2021.
— CMS ISSUES NEW FAQS ON PROVIDER RELIEF FUND. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released an additional list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to Medicare providers regarding the Provider Relief Fund and the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program payments.
The FAQs address how to report provider relief fund payments, uninsured charges reimbursed through the Uninsured Program administered by Health Resources and Services Administration, and Small Business Administration (SBA) Loan Forgiveness amounts. The FAQs also address that provider relief fund payments should not offset expenses on the Medicare Cost Report.