COVID-19: Federal Update (9/17)
— TRUMP CALLS FOR 'LARGER NUMBER' ON COVID-19 FUNDING. The president expressed optimism on the prospects for a deal, encouraging "a larger number" for funding related to COVID-19 aid.
— SENATORS OFFER DISASTER TAX RELIEF BILL. A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday offered legislation to provide tax relief to individuals and businesses affected by natural disasters.
— SENATE DEMOCRATS PRESENT $350 BILLION STRATEGY TO COUNTER CHINA. Senate Democrats plan on Thursday to present their most comprehensive strategy yet to confront and compete with China.
— TRUMP ADMINISTRATION OUTLINES GAME PLAN FOR VACCINE DISTRIBUTION. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is requiring states to submit plans on how they would distribute and administer a vaccine by Friday, Oct. 16.
Capitol Hill Update
— TRUMP CALLS FOR 'LARGER NUMBER' ON COVID-19 FUNDING. President Donald Trump weighed in on the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus' COVID-19 relief proposal yesterday, saying that the plan is "on [its] way to suggesting some pretty good things." Despite the gridlocked nature of the pandemic relief talks to date, the president expressed optimism on the prospects for a deal, encouraging "a larger number" for funding related to COVID-19 aid. Congressional Democratic leadership seized on these comments, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) encouraging the White House negotiating team to meet in the middle on legislation that is "equal to the massive health and economic crises gripping our nation." Despite these comments, it remains unlikely that a deal comes together prior to the end of the September legislative session at this time, as Senate Republicans dismissed the idea.
— HOUSE CLOSES OUT FIRST SEPT. WORK WEEK; SENATE RESUMES NOMINATIONS PUSH.On the floor, House lawmakers will close out their legislative work week with consideration of a bill out of the Education and Labor Committee that seeks to eliminate discrimination and promote economic security for pregnant women in the workplace. Specifically, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would ensure "reasonable workplace accommodations" for workers whose ability to perform the functions of a job are limited by pregnancy, child birth, or a related medical condition. The lower chamber will also consider a resolution that condemns all forms of anti-Asian sentiment as related to COVID–19. In the upper chamber, Senators will vote on the nominations of Franklin Valderrama and Iain Johnston to be District Judges for the Northern District of Illinois.
Washington Insider: What We're Reading
A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday offered legislation to provide tax relief to individuals and businesses affected by natural disasters, such as August's derecho in the Midwest, the wildfires in western states, and Hurricanes Laura and Isaias. The bill was introduced by Iowa Sens. Joni Ernst (R) and Chuck Grassley (R), California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) and Louisiana Sens. Bill Cassidy (R) and John Kennedy (R) — all of whom represent states impacted by disasters in recent months.
Senate Democrats plan on Thursday to present their most comprehensive strategy yet to confront and compete with China, rolling out sprawling legislation that would provide more than $350 billion over a decade to build the United States’ industrial capacity and challenge Beijing. The bill, led by Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, and Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, seeks to shore up the nation’s manufacturing capabilities and infrastructure in an attempt to unwind it from China’s economy and increase American firms’ competitiveness.
Senate Republican leaders are hoping to let their colleagues hit the campaign trail at the end of next week, acknowledging the slim chances of passing significant legislation other than a government funding stopgap before Election Day. Republican senators say negotiations between the White House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are not likely to produce a COVID-19 deal before the election, and their vulnerable colleagues are eager to get back home to campaign. However, Pelosi emphasized this week that the House is committed to getting a coronavirus deal, is in no rush to leave the nation’s capital and has some leverage on the Senate’s plans.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows met with major airline chief executives on Thursday as the industry braces for thousands of job cuts in two weeks, and urged lawmakers to embrace a $1.5 trillion coronavirus aid package proposed by a bipartisan congressional group and endorsed by President Donald Trump. Meadows told reporters said that if House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi was willing to move a bill that would support airline workers and prevent layoffs, Trump would support it, noting the looming layoffs of thousands of workers set for Oct 1.
COVID-19: What We're Hearing
— PROBLEM SOLVERS ROLL OUT COVID-19 PROPOSAL. The bipartisan Congressional Problem Solvers Caucus outlined their roughly $2 trillion proposal for the next round of pandemic relief aid amid mounting concerns from rank-and-file lawmakers about the lack of progress on leadership-level negotiations. The proposal reflects an effort to find a bipartisan compromise on several emerging and existing needs related to the COVID-19 public health emergency, including state and local aid, health care, liability protections, unemployment insurance, and child care. It also includes provisions on small business relief, broadband funding, agriculture aid, and postal service support. Click here to read TRP's analysis of this proposal.
— 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
— TRUMP ADMINISTRATION OUTLINES GAME PLAN FOR VACCINE DISTRIBUTION. The Trump administration outlined its plan to distribute and administer millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines in a report to Congress and a playbook for states.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is requiring states to submit plans on how they would distribute and administer a vaccine by Friday, Oct. 16.
— INDEPENDENT NURSING HOME COMMISSION OUTLINES RECOMMENDATIONS. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published the final report from the independent Coronavirus Commission for Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes.
The Commission outlined 27 recommendations and accompanying action steps pertaining to testing, screening, PPE, infection control, and quality of life, among others.
— NIH AWARDS CONTRACTS FOR COVID-19 DIGITAL HEALTH TECHNOLOGIES. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded seven contracts to companies and institutions of higher education to develop digital health solutions that help address the COVID-19 pandemic.
· The agency identified smartphone apps, wearable devices, and software that can identify and trace contacts of infected individuals as possible avenues to explore with this funding.
— DOL REVISES PAID FAMILY AND SICK LEAVE REGULATIONS. The Department of Labor (DOL) announced revisions to regulations that implemented the paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).
— HUD ANNOUNCES NEW CARES ACT DISTRIBUTION TO CDBGS. The Department of Housing and Urban Affairs (HUD) announced nearly $2 billion in CARES Act funding that is allocated toward the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. This particular funding tranche is geared toward households with greater risk of eviction.
— TRUMP ADMINISTRATION ADJUSTS COVID-19 ENTRY STRATEGY FOR INTERNATIONAL AIR PASSENGERS. The Trump administration announced changes to its entry strategy for international air passengers traveling to the U.S.
· Beginning Sept. 14, 2020, the U.S. government will remove requirements for directing all flights carrying airline passengers arriving from, or recently had a presence in, certain countries to land at one of 15 designated airports and halt enhanced entry health screening for these passengers.
— 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.