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COVID-19: Federal Update (9/22)

Quick Takes

— HOUSE SET TO VOTE ON DEMOCRATIC STOPGAP FUNDING BILL. Congress has eight days remaining until the Sept. 30 deadline.

— POWELL TO MAKE LAST-DITCH EFFORT ON COVID-19 RELIEF. Powell has told lawmakers that the Fed has “lending powers, not spending powers,” and that significant COVID-19 aid is needed sooner rather than later.

— GAO REPORT ON COVID-19: FEDERAL EFFORTS COULD BE STRENGTHENED BY TIMELY AND CONCERTED ACTIONS. The report includes 16 recommendations pertaining to the medical supply chain, Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), State and Local Coronavirus Relief Fund, and cybersecurity, among others. 

Capitol Hill Update

— HOUSE SET TO VOTE ON DEMOCRATIC STOPGAP FUNDING BILL. House Democratic Leadership officially filed a continuing resolution (CR) (text; summary) yesterday that would avert a government shutdown and fund the government until Dec. 11. The stopgap funding measure addresses numerous policies that were set to lapse this year, including one-year reauthorizations for the surface transportation law and National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The bill would also extend expiring Medicare, Medicaid, and public health programs until Dec. 11, including those that were set to expire on Nov. 30.

  • Context and Next Steps. Despite a bipartisan agreement in principle between Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on key policies — namely farm aid and food security for children and families — the Democratic-led bill does not include either, setting up a potential stalemate between House Democrats and Senate Republicans over more than $20 billion worth of funding for the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). As such, it's possible that House GOP lawmakers will try to add this provision in by way of a "motion to recommit" when the bill comes up for a vote. Similarly, Senate Republicans could look to tack the CCC funds onto the CR and send it back to the lower chamber after it passes the House. Congress has eight days remaining until the Sept. 30 deadline, so the two sides will need to resolve their differences quickly in order to avoid a funding lapse.

Washington Insider: What We're Reading

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell will head to Capitol Hill this week for three days of testimony in what will likely be his last chance to try to push Congress toward another coronavirus relief bill before Election Day. For months, Powell has told lawmakers that the Fed has “lending powers, not spending powers,” and that significant COVID-19 aid is needed sooner rather than later. Without it, Powell warned as recently as last week, millions of Americans may continue to suffer from joblessness and homelessness despite a gradual improvement in the economy.

Ever since Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, was first elected to the House in 2006, he has sought to ensure that Iowans and other rural Americans can access the internet. But Loebsack, who is set to retire at the end of the 116th Congress, remains frustrated that the federal government still lacks accurate data showing where Americans can get a signal — and where they can’t. And despite cooperation between Democrats and Republicans designed to force the FCC to fix them, sniping over who bears the responsibility for the persisting inaccuracies is a matter of partisan debate.

The Senate Judiciary chairman who will shepherd the nomination through the chamber said Republicans have the votes they need for confirmation — even though no nominee has been announced. "The nominee is going to be supported by every Republican in the Judiciary Committee,” Chairman Lindsey Graham told Fox News late Monday. “We’ve got the votes to confirm the justice on the floor of the Senate before the election and that’s what’s coming.”

The White House is threatening to veto an energy bill rolled out by Democrats last week, calling it a “a top-down approach that would undermine the administration’s deregulatory agenda.” The 900-page bill crafted from 40 existing proposals isn’t a far cry from a Senate measure pushed earlier this year by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). It would funnel money into research and development for all sorts of types of energy, including methods that would assist the longevity of fossil fuel-backed industries.

COVID-19: What We're Hearing

— HOUSE REPUBLICANS PRESS FOR ACTION ON PPP. House GOP lawmakers are formulating a strategy to bring a bill to the floor that would extend and reform the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Sponsored by Small Business Committee Ranking Member Steve Chabot (R-OH), the legislation would extend the signature small business rescue program through the end of the year, creating an opportunity for a second PPP loan for small businesses, nonprofits, independent contractors, and sole proprietors should they meet eligibility criteria outlined in the bill. The measure would also: (1) allot $25 billion for small businesses with fewer than 10 employees; (2) expand on the list of covered expenses; and (3) clarify the forgiveness process for smaller loans, both below $150,000 and between $150,000 and $2 million.

  • Next Steps. In a move aimed at circumventing House Democratic leadership, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) is currently spearheading a "discharge petition" that would prompt a vote on whether to bring the legislation to the floor. If all GOP members sign onto the petition, the minority would need at least 20 House Democrats to also sign on in order to officially discharge the legislation from the Small Business Committee and onto the floor. Under House rules, the earliest this petition can formally be filed is Friday, Sept. 25.

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. 

— 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:

Click here to view TRP's side-by-side of the Senate GOP HEALS Act and the House Democratic HEROES Act.

COVID-19 Legislative & Regulatory Trackers


— GAO REPORT ON COVID-19: FEDERAL EFFORTS COULD BE STRENGTHENED BY TIMELY AND CONCERTED ACTIONS. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on the agency's oversight of federal actions to support public health, individuals, and the economy during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

  • The report includes 16 recommendations pertaining to the medical supply chain, Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), State and Local Coronavirus Relief Fund, and cybersecurity, among others.


— CMS RELEASES INFORMATION ON COVERAGE FOR COVID-19 TESTING. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released information designed to help states, nursing facilities, and other providers better understand the sources of Medicare and Medicaid coverage and payment for COVID-19 testing, including a flow chart detailing testing coverage for nursing facility residents. 

— FDA PUBLISHES GUIDANCE ON INVESTIGATIONAL COVID-19 CONVALESCENT PLASMA. The Food and Drug Administration issued final guidance that outlines recommendations to health care providers and investigators on the use of investigational convalescent plasma in COVID-19 patients.

— 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 FDA 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.

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