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COVID-19: Federal Update (9/23)

Quick Takes

  — HOUSE PASSES CR; SENATE VOTE LIKELY NEXT WEEK. Senators are expected to vote on the stopgap funding measure early next week.

— DOJ TO SEEK CONGRESSIONAL CURBS ON IMMUNITY FOR INTERNET COMPANIES. The Justice Department will submit a proposal to Congress on Wednesday to curb longstanding legal protections for internet companies.

— REMOTE WORK POSES STATE TAX CHALLENGES. Congress and industry groups are pushing to enact legislation that would make things simpler for workers when they file their taxes next year and beyond.

— TRUMP ADMINISTRATION ALLOCATES $200 MILLION TO JURISDICTIONS FOR VACCINE PREPAREDNESS. The funding is intended for jurisdictions to plan for and implement COVID-19 vaccination services.

Capitol Hill Update

— HOUSE PASSES CR; SENATE VOTE LIKELY NEXT WEEK. The House passed (359-57) a bipartisan continuing resolution (CR) (text; summary) yesterday after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) struck a deal addressing additional farm aid and food security for children and families. The measure — which includes extensions for the surface transportation law, National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and expiring health care programs — would punt the funding deadline into the "lame duck" session on Friday, Dec. 11. The CR now heads to the Senate for a vote that is expected to occur early next week.

— LAWMAKERS SET TO CONSIDER CLEAN ENERGY PACKAGE. House lawmakers will convene today to consider a package (amendments) of clean energy legislation out of the Energy and Commerce Committee. The 38-bill package contains a host of measures that would authorize and reauthorize federal programs pertaining to electric vehicles, renewable energy, nuclear power, and energy efficiency. While the bill enjoys bipartisan support in the lower chamber, it is not expected to be taken up in the GOP-controlled Senate after the White House issued a veto threat earlier this week.

Washington Insider: What We're Reading

The Justice Department will submit a proposal to Congress on Wednesday to curb longstanding legal protections for internet companies such as Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Twitter Inc. and force them to shoulder more responsibility for managing content on their sites, a senior department official said. The proposal advances two main goals the Trump administration and the department outlined in June: encouraging online platforms to actively address illicit conduct and manage content on their sites in fair and consistent ways.

Lawmakers and tax professionals are concerned that workers could face challenges when they file their state taxes next year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. To head off that confusion, Congress and industry groups are pushing to enact legislation that would make things simpler for workers when they file their taxes next year and beyond.

As the insurance industry increasingly relies on artificial intelligence, its state-based regulators are thinking about how to ensure that the technology treats policyholders fairly. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners last month unanimously adopted guiding principles that AI be fair, ethical, accountable and safe. But these are largely broad-brush notions for a technology that is just starting to be used. Insurers and rating and advisory organizations “should be responsible for the creation, implementation and impacts of any AI system, even if the impacts are unintended,” the NAIC’s Innovation and Technology Task Force, part of its Executive Committee, wrote.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday diminished studies linking a widely-used pesticide associated with brain damage in children, a move that could enable years of continued use of controversial chlorpyrifos. In a Tuesday risk assessment released by the agency, the EPA argued that “despite several years of study, the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved.”

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


— TRUMP ADMINISTRATION ALLOCATES $200 MILLION TO JURISDICTIONS FOR VACCINE PREPAREDNESS. The Trump administration announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will award $200 million in CARES Act funding to 64 jurisdictions through the agency's immunization cooperative agreement. The funding is intended for jurisdictions to plan for and implement COVID-19 vaccination services.

— HHS ISSUES PRF REPORTING GUIDANCE. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) posted new reporting requirements for the Provider Relief Fund (PRF), specifying the data that providers who received more than $10,000 in PRF payments will be required to submit as part of a post-payment reporting process. 


— 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.

  • 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. 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.

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