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COVID-19: Federal Update (9/29)

Quick Takes

HOUSE DEMS REINTRODUCE HEROES ACT. Speaker Pelosi and Secretary Mnuchin will pick up negotiations today in hopes of striking a bipartisan agreement.

— TRUMP ADMINISTRATION PUSHES TO END CENSUS NEXT WEEK. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced Monday he intends to end all in-person counting efforts next week.

FIRST PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE SET FOR TONIGHT. President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden will square off in the first 2020 presidential debate at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH.

— ADMINISTRATION ANNOUNCES PLAN TO SEND RAPID TESTS TO STATES. The Trump Administration announced a national distribution plan for deploying 150 million rapid coronavirus tests to states.  

Capitol Hill Update

— HOUSE DEMS REINTRODUCE HEROES ACT. House Democrats reintroduced their HEROES Act pandemic relief legislation (text; summary; one-pager) yesterday evening as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin continue negotiations. The $2.2 trillion draft bill largely reflects many of the same policies that were presented in the original version, including: (1) another round of $1,200 stimulus checks and $600 per week unemployment benefits; (2) support for COVID-19 testing, treatment, and health care providers; (3) emergency paid family and medical leave; and (4) support for child care services, among other provisions. Key changes to the new HEROES Act include:

  • State and Local Aid. The bill would offer $436 billion for state and local governments impacted by the pandemic, down from the nearly $1 trillion offered in the original version. The bill also retains a temporary lift $10,000 cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction, but for one year instead of two.

  • PPP. The bill would repurpose $146 billion in unspent Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding for other small business programs contained in the bill.

  • Health Providers. The bill includes roughly $50 billion less for hospitals and other health care providers. It also does away with a $190 billion hazard pay program for health care workers and first responders.

  • Restaurant Aid. The bill would establish a $120 billion program through the Treasury Department aimed at providing restaurants and other food service entities with grant funding to offset payroll costs and eligible expenses.

  • Mental Health. The bill would provide $8.5 billion in funding to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an increase from the $3 billion provision in the original version.

  • Airlines. The bill would extend the Payroll Support Program (PSP) for airlines, authorizing $25 billion for the program through Mar. 31, 2021.

  • Postal Service. The bill includes $10 billion less for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) compared to the original version. This amount could eventually be available to USPS if the borrowing restrictions contained in the CARES Act are repealed.

What's Next? Speaker Pelosi and Secretary Mnuchin will continue talks on a bipartisan agreement today and throughout the rest of the week with hopes of striking a deal prior to the October district work period. If the two sides are unable to bridge their differences on pandemic relief, it is expected that the updated HEROES Act will receive a vote on the House floor on Thursday or Friday, and be dead-on-arrival in the GOP-controlled Senate.

— SENATE READIES ACTION ON GOVERNMENT FUNDING STOPGAP; HOUSE TAKES UP SUSPENSION BILLS. Senators are poised to take up the bipartisan continuing resolution (CR) (textsummary) today ahead of tomorrow's government funding deadline. 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. Meanwhile, the House will convene for legislative business this afternoon to consider 26 bills under suspension of the rules. This includes measures out of the Energy and Commerce Committee that would: (1) address mental health issues for youth of color (H.R. 5469); (2) direct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop best practices for behavioral health intervention teams at schools (H.R. 3539); and (3) authorize SAMHSA grants to improve access to follow-up care for individuals who experience an acute mental health episode (H.R. 2419).

Washington Insider: What We're Reading

Days after a judge ordered the Census Bureau to continue enumerating for another month beyond its current Sept. 30 deadline, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the agency, announced Monday he intends to end all in-person counting efforts next week. “The Secretary of Commerce has announced a target date of October 5, 2020 to conclude 2020 Census self-response and field data collection operations,” according to a Census Bureau announcement made on Twitter and on its website.

Tax cuts remain a core, unifying aspect of GOP ideology. Full Republican control of government—though unlikely—would yield attempts to forgive this year’s deferred payroll taxes, lock in tax cuts set to expire in coming years and create new breaks. In a more likely divided-government scenario, Mr. Trump’s re-election would temper Democrats’ ability to raise taxes on companies and high-income households. Lawmakers still would face the same deadlines—temporary pandemic provisions expiring soon, business-tax increases scheduled for 2022 and 2023 and expiration of individual tax cuts slated for 2026.

A federal judge's decision to boot a top Trump appointee could jeopardize years of actions the administration has taken on public lands, including an expansion of oil and gas drilling and the decision to uproot the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) headquarters. A Montana-based U.S. District Court judge on Friday ruled William Perry Pendley, the controversial acting director of BLM, "served unlawfully... for 424 days," giving the Department of the Interior 10 days to justify why it shouldn’t throw out many of the decisions Pendley has made during his tenure.

The top Democrat and Republican on the House’s transportation committee unveiled a bill on Monday aimed at addressing some of the problems that contributed to two fatal crashes of Boeing’s 737 Max jet. Many of the changes in the bill, which is expected to be formally announced on Tuesday, would fix safety lapses that Democrats on the committee identified in a scathing report less than two weeks ago. The report blamed Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration for a series of safety failures.

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


— ADMINISTRATION ANNOUNCES PLAN TO SEND RAPID TESTS TO STATES. The Trump Administration announced a national distribution plan for deploying 150 million rapid coronavirus tests to states. 

— TRUMP ADMINISTRATION AWARDS CONTRACT FOR DOMESTIC API PRODUCTION. The Departments of Defense (DoD) and Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded a $20 million contract to On Demand Pharmaceuticals aimed at bolstering domestic production capability for active pharmaceutical ingredients.


— NEW CMS TOOLKIT SEEKS TO SIMPLIFY CERTIFICATION FOR COVID-19 TESTING LABS. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued new tools aimed at streamlining the certification process for labs that test for COVID-19.

  • The toolkit includes a guide that helps laboratories with the application process for Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) certification, as well as information on the expedited review process that allows labs to start COVID-19 testing before official certification.

— FDA AUTHORIZES FIRST POC COVID-19 ANTIBODY TEST. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization for the first antibody point-of-care test for COVID-19. This will allow the fingerstick blood sample to be tested in POC settings such as doctors' offices, hospitals, urgent care facilities, and emergency rooms.

— 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. 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 FDA 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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