COVID-19 Federal Update 3-20-20

March 20, 2020

FEMA Takes Over Coordination:

Federal Emergency Management Agency is stepping up its role on coordinating the government’s overall response to the pandemic, while the HHS will continue to lead the health and medical response. In a tweet, FEMA said it’s leading the federal coordination on behalf of HHS and the White House in response to Covid-19. FEMA said its coordination center was active and that it was readying more than 50 teams to deploy across the U.S. to activate emergency operations centers. Read more from Cheryl Bolen.

Americans Told Not to Travel Overseas

The State Department raised its travel alert to Level 4 — which is the highest advisory in the department’s travel alert system — for the entire world, an unprecedented move aimed at keeping Americans from going overseas as the Trump administration tries to get control of the coronavirus, Nick Wadhams reports. In a notice yesterday, the department said Americans who venture abroad may find their travel plans “severely disrupted” and “may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite timeframe.” At the same time, the State Department announced it was severely curtailing passport services for Americans.  Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and nine other Democrats on the panel sent a letter yesterday to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressing concerns about Americans who are struggling to return home after being stranded abroad due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They are requesting updates on efforts to assist those stranded abroad. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expects the closure of the Canada-U.S. border to non-essential traffic to begin at the end of the week, Kait Bolongaro reports. “With respect to U.S-Canada border, we are working together to finalize details with our American counterparts and we expect these measures to go into effect in the night of Friday to Saturday,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa. However, the two countries may allow those with work visas to continue to cross the border, Josh Wingrove reports.

Virus-Related Paid Leave

The Labor Department will issue new regulations to implement emergency paid sick and family leave requirements under the newly enacted coronavirus relief package, according to an internal email obtained by Bloomberg Law. Cheryl Stanton, who heads the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, emailed staffers yesterday with a synopsis of the agency’s plans to carry out the law. The law provides certain workers impacted by the virus with two weeks of paid sick leave and 10 weeks of partially paid family leave to care for a child.

White House Today

  • 11:45am: Members of coronavirus task force hold press briefing
  • 1:30pm: Trump has lunch with Sec. of State Mike Pompeo
  • 3:45pm: Trump participates in call with small business owners on coronavirus response

Today on the Hill

  • Congress is still in session but with limited staff and members on the Hill and many working from home.
  • Senate convenes Friday at noon with no votes scheduled
  • House in recess

McConnell’s Stimulus Package – The CARES Act

Yesterday the Senate Republican released a $1.5 trillion package

  • $1,200 to Individuals, $2,400 to Couples – Rebates are completely phased-out for all taxpayers with incomes exceeding $99,000 for individuals or $198,000 for a couple
  • $1.32 billion for community health centers
  • Lift Medicare “sequestration” payment cuts this year, slashing more than $15 billion from Medicare payments, just in fiscal 2020
  • Proposes that Medicare offer hospitals an added payment for caring after coronavirus patients that amounts to a 15% bonus
  • increasing telehealth services for Medicare patients at certain health centers and rural clinics during the health emergenc
  • waive a requirement for face-to-face visits between dialysis patients and doctors, and it would bolster some Medicare home-care services.
  • $208 billion worth of loans for businesses hurting due to the outbreak, including $58 billion for the airline sector, and $150 billion for other distressed areas of the economy.
  • $500 billion for a payroll tax holiday,
  • borrowers could defer payments and interest on federal student loans for up to six months without penalty. The proposal would let students who leave college as a result of the new coronavirus keep money from Pell Grants and student loans and waive requirements that colleges return Title IV funds for those who drop out
  • $58 billion in loans to airlines the package would provide. Passenger carriers would get $50 billion in loans and loan guarantees, while cargo haulers would be eligible for $8 billion.
  • the proposal would impose restrictions on executives’ pay and other caps often sought by Democrats. As a condition of getting assistance under the bill, companies have to agree to cap executive compensation at 2019 levels for two years. Executives would also be barred from receiving severance or a “golden parachute” packages that’s worth more than twice their total compensation in 2019

McConnell’s office last night released the following section summaries that are part of the proposal:

House Democrat’s working on their own proposed “Phase 3” bill

House Democrats are starting work on measures to fund manufacturing needs for medical supplies amid the outbreak, even as Trump waits to use his emergency mobilization powers. Trump has said that he’s invoked the Defense Production Act, but he has yet to take action and enter into contracts with private manufacturers to boost production of medical supplies such as ventilators. “We hope we’re not going to need that,” Trump said yesterday, adding that governors should take the lead on such actions .

But House appropriators are already in early stages of considering measures to pay for those provisions, House Appropriations Committee spokesperson Evan Hollander said yesterday. They’re working to include funds in their own “phase 3” bill. Jack Fitzpatrick, Alex Ruoff and Shira Stein have more.

  • Health-care groups called on the federal government to take quick action to ensure a steady supply of essential health equipment. Over a dozen groups representing a wide range of the industry such as hospitals, health insurers, health professionals, drug makers, and labs sent in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence and congressional leaders, saying “immediate, collective action” is necessary “by the private sector and all levels of government” to address capacity and supply, Sara Hansard reports.
  • Clinical testing laboratories have also asked Congress for funding, seeking $5 billion to cover emergency costs associated with Covid-19 test kits. In a letter to congressional leaders yesterday, the American Clinical Laboratory Association said that the Treasury Department should administer a direct financial fund to help cover the costs of equipment, supplies, and labor to sustain testing capacity for millions of Americans. Read more from David Voreacos and Neil Weinberg.
  • Meanwhile, the 500 million N95 air-filtering respirator masks Trump said the federal government ordered may take 18 months to be delivered, according to the grant application. There’s been a shortage of the masks, and health-care workers are being told to reuse them. The government is expecting the masks to be delivered incrementally, according to the application, but it will allow those deliveries to occur over 18 months. Chinese manufacturers are not able to fulfill the request. Read more from Shira Stein.

Industries competing for Aid

  • National Restaurant Association is seeking  $145 billion recovery fund to compensate restaurants for reduced revenue as well as regulations allowing for temporary waivers from fees over late mortgage or rent payments.
  • National Association of Manufacturers requested $1.4 trillion “manufacturing resiliency fund” to provide loans to large and small producers.
  • U.S. Travel Association and American Hotel and Lodging Association is seeking $150 billion in relief and called for the establishment of a $250 billion stabilization fund to keep workers employed, among other measures, to combat what it projected would be a loss of 4.6 million jobs and $202 billion in direct travel spending before May.
  • Retail Industry Leaders Association, which represents, among others, Walmart Inc., Lowe’s Cos., and Target Inc., is asking for the federal government to increase retailers’ access to capital through short-term loans from the Treasury Department or government-backed bank loans. The group also asked the Trump administration to suspend tariffs on Chinese imports and retroactively refund the tariffs paid up to this point.
  • The American Council on Education is seeking $7.8 billion to support online lectures and flexibility for federal regulations.
  • American Public Transportation Association  representing public transit agencies are seeing ridership plummet and higher costs on coronavirus response efforts and need $16 billion in “direct emergency funding,”
  • Rental car companies Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise have asked the Treasury Department to include their industry in federal plans to rescue U.S. travel companies ravaged by the coronavirus.

Additional legislation introduced

  • Creating Capacity for Communities in Need Act  – legislation to allow physician-owned hospitals to expand their facilities, beds, and surgical rooms and provide much needed relief for the medical facilities overwhelmed by the surge in patients as a result of coronavirus. See press release
  • Pandemic Healthcare Access Act – legislation to expand access to Health Savings Accounts to anyone with a health plan for the duration of this public health crisis.
  • RESULTs for Coronavirus Patients Act – legislation to remove the regulatory barriers that often delay the approval of new pharmaceuticals and medical devices for months and allow the FDA 30 days to approve a drug or device already approved in another country.
  • S.3507 – A bill to require the Secretary of Defense to make testing for the coronavirus disease 19 available to all members of the Armed Forces deployed to an area in which the United States Central Command has responsibility.
  • HR. 6290 – To provide economic stimulus through advanced refundable tax credits to all individuals during the COVID-19 crisis, and for other purposes.
  • H.R.6291 —To amend the microloan program of the Small Business Administration in response to COVID-19, and for other purposes.
  • H.R.6292 —To establish the Office of Coronavirus COVID-19 Small Business Recovery Grants in the Small Business Administration to compensate certain small business concerns for substantial economic injury, and for other purposes.
  • H.R.6293 —To require issuance of guidance by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness regarding protecting the homeless from the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), and for other purposes.
  • H.R.6294 —To require data-sharing regarding protecting the homeless from coronavirus, and for other purposes.
  • H.R.6295 —)To require issuance of guidance by the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development regarding protecting the homeless who reside in certain federally assisted properties from the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), and for other purposes.
  • H.R.6296 —To provide for the use of Public Housing Operating and Capital Fund amounts to address public health emergencies, and for other purposes.
  • H.R.6297 —To require public housing agencies to inform residents of a public housing project when a resident of such project tests positive for the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), and for other purposes.
  • H.R.6298 —To waive and defer certain requirements under the special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children during certain emergencies, and for other purposes.
  • H.R.6299 —To provide for the rapid coverage of preventive services and vaccines for COVID-19.
  • H.R.6300 —To provide that under the Older Americans Act of 1965 the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman shall have continuing direct access (or other access through the use of technology) to residents of long-term care facilities to provide services during any portion of the COVID-19 public health emergency declared under section 319 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 247d) that occurs in fiscal year 2020.
  • H.R.6301 —To require the Administrator of the Small Business Administration to provide resources and services to small business concerns in languages other than English, and for other purposes.
  • H.R.6302 —To amend the Public Health Service Act to respond to the shortage of allied health professionals, and for other purposes.
  • H.R.6303 —To temporarily reduce fees for certain loans under the Small Business Administration, to increase guarantee amounts on certain loans, and for other purposes.
  • H.R.6304 —To authorize the Administrator of the Small Business Administration to subsidize payments on loans guaranteed under the 7(a) and 504 loan programs or made using funds under the microloan program, and for other purposes.
  • H.R.6305 —To assist older Americans and people with disabilities affected by COVID-19.
  • H.R.6306 —To amend the Expedited Funds Availability Act to temporarily require that certain funds deposited with depository institutions by existing customers be available for withdrawal in real time in States with a public health emergency, and for other purposes.
  • H.R.6307 —To provide contracting flexibility to small business concerns, and for other purposes.
  • H.R.6308 —To address root causes of homelessness, meet the needs of community members experiencing harms from homelessness, transition communities towards providing housing for all, and ensure full democratic participation and inclusion of persons experiencing homelessness, and for other purposes.
  • H.R.6309 —To require the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to encourage States and localities to adopt policies pertaining to the safe relocation of prisoners during major disasters and emergencies.
  • H.R.6310 —)To require the Secretary of Defense to make testing for the coronavirus disease 19 available to all members of the Armed Forces deployed to an area in which the United States Central Command has responsibility.
  • H.R.6311 —To require private health insurers to cover care related to COVID-19 without cost-sharing and to provide for special enrollment periods for individuals diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • H.R.6312 —To provide relief from COVID-19 for small business concerns, and for other purposes.
  • H.R.6313 —To provide for additional emergency nutrition assistance under the Older Americans Act of 1965 in fiscal year 2020 to respond to the declared COVID-19 public health emergency, and for other purposes.
  • S.3534 —A bill to amend the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to provide assistance to individuals affected by a pandemic, and for other purposes.
  • S.3535 —A bill to extend the due date for the return and payment of Federal income taxes to July 15, 2020, for taxable year 2019.
  • S.3536 —A bill to provide for special enrollment periods during public health emergencies, coverage of services related to public health emergencies, and for other purposes.
  • S.3537 —A bill to require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to maintain a list of the country of origin of all drugs marketed in the United States, to ban the use of Federal funds for the purchase of drugs manufactured in China, and for other purposes.
  • S.3538 —A bill to require the Secretary of Defense to submit to Congress a report on the reliance by the Department of Defense on imports of certain pharmaceutical products made in part or in whole in certain countries, to establish postmarket reporting requirements for pharmaceuticals, and for other purposes.
  • S.3539 —A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to exempt telehealth services from certain high deductible health plan rules.
  • S.3540 —A bill to prohibit public companies from repurchasing their shares on the open market, and for other purposes.
  • S.3541 —A bill to modify requirements relating to small business disaster loans made in response to COVID-19, and for other purposes.
  • S.3542 —A bill to provide COVID-19 related assistance through a special earned income rule for purposes of the refundable child and earned income credits for taxable year 2020.
  • S.3543 —A bill to amend the public service loan forgiveness program under the Higher Education Act of 1965 to waive the requirement that a borrower make a monthly payment during a month for which there is a qualifying emergency in the State in which the borrower is employed.
  • S.3544 —A bill to assist older Americans and people with disabilities affected by COVID-19.
  • S.3545 —A bill to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to provide for reciprocal marketing approval of certain drugs, biological products, and devices that are authorized to be lawfully marketed abroad, and for other purposes.
  • S.3546 —A bill to waive high deductible health plan requirements for health savings accounts.
  • S.3547 —A bill to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to waive limitations on expansion of facility capacity under rural provider and hospital exception to ownership or investment prohibition during coronavirus 2020 emergency period.
  • S.3548 —A bill to provide emergency assistance and health care response for individuals, families, and businesses affected by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

Congressional Letters

  • House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) yesterday sent a letter seeking a copy of the administration’s plan for coronavirus testing in response to a leaked White House “Response Plan” that said the public health situation “will last 18 months or longer.” But it doesn’t “include a plan to address one of the most significant failings with the response to date—the shortfall in coronavirus testing,” says the letter, signed by Maloney and subcommittee heads, to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield.
  • The Congressional Progressive Caucus sent a letter to Pelosi outlining 12 priorities for the third legislative package under negotiation for the coronavirus that would include free testing, treatment and prevention.
  • Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) asked the HHS watchdog to investigate delays in development and deployment of coronavirus tests. In a letter yesterday, Murray asked the HHS inspector general to launch probe to “understand where HHS has erred in this process and implement lessons learned.”

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