COVID-19 Federal Update 4-1-2020
SBA Loans Guidance
Treasury Issues Guidelines, Application Form for SBA Paycheck Protection Program
The Treasury Department yesterday issued much-anticipated guidance for the Paycheck Protection Program, which starting this week will provide up to $350 billion in fully forgivable loans to help small businesses maintain payrolls during the coronavirus pandemic. The loans are fully guaranteed by the Small Business Administration, but the SBA will waive all SBA guaranty fees. PPP loans are made for two years at a 0.5% fixed rate with payments deferred for six months.
All banks, as well as a broad range of nonbanks, are eligible to make PPP loans. Existing SBA-certified lenders will be given delegated authority; others must be approved before making loans. The SBA will quickly verify that banks applying are federally regulated, and new applicants will be able to process applications as soon as Friday, according to a senior administration official.
To underwrite PPP loans, lenders will need to verify that the borrower was in operation on Feb. 15, 2020, and that it had employees for whom it paid salaries and payroll taxes. The lender will also have to verify the dollar amount of average payroll costs. The SBA will not review loan applications, according to a senior administration official, but lenders will receive an SBA loan number and verify that the applicant has not already received a PPP loan.
SBA will pay the lender a processing fee calculated on the loan balance, ranging from 1% for loans of over $2 million to 5% for loans of $350,000 or less. PPP loans may be sold in the secondary market, and SBA will not collect fees for guarantees sold. The guidance includes fee caps for agents assisting with loan applications.
Small businesses and sole proprietorships—generally, those with 500 or fewer employees—may apply for PPP loans starting on Friday, April 3; independent contractors and self-employed workers can apply starting April 10. PPP loans will be fully forgiven when used for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities, with at least three quarters of the forgiven amount being used for payroll; forgiveness is based on employers maintaining headcount or quickly rehiring and maintaining salary levels.
Coronavirus Relief Package #4 Discussions
Surprise Bill Fix Eyed in Next Stimulus
Leaders of pivotal congressional health panels want to include a fix for surprise medical billing in the next coronavirus-response package, aides and lawmakers said.
House Energy and Commerce ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) is pushing to get surprise billing legislation into a future package to address the impacts of the pandemic. Walden said that he has been working with Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) on the problem.
“We need to get it done and we need to get it done now,” Walden said Monday on C-SPAN. Pallone told reporters separately on Monday that he’s working with Walden on what could be in a fourth coronavirus legislative effort, but stopped short of saying surprise medical bill legislation should be included.
Surprise billing legislation aims to end instances in which people with insurance end up paying high fees for health-care services, often because of unexpectedly getting treatment from doctors outside the insurance network. Battles between insurers and health-care providers over how to shape such a solution have kept legislation from passing.
Democrats also want to make health-care services free to people who contract the coronavirus, Pallone said. Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said that if treatment becomes free, those with the virus wouldn’t have to fear surprise medical bills.
Walden tried to include in previous coronavirus legislation an agreement he and Pallone had struck with Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) late in 2019 meant to end “balance billing” and cap some out-of-network charges that insured patients faced when seeking emergency room care. Senate leaders decided against including the provision in any of the three bills that cleared Congress, aides said.
Separately, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) is also pressing for surprise billing provisions related to coronavirus testing and treatment, according to a Cassidy spokesman. Read more from Alex Ruoff.
Medical Groups Eye More Relief: Health industry leaders expect Congress will need to send billions more to hospitals and doctors this year, even before any of the $100 billion in emergency funds signed into law last Friday are doled out. Hospital and doctors’ groups say that they’re pushing on two fronts: getting the emergency funds to providers right now and persuading lawmakers to provide more money.
Health organizations are asking HHS to start dispensing the funds as soon as possible to help keep afloat hospitals, health centers and doctors’ offices that have been responding to the outbreak. Some want the agency to use the emergency fund to forgo collecting Medicare advanced payments, essentially letting the federal government pay doctors immediately with the public health insurance system. Read more from Alex Ruoff.
Yesterday, the American Hospital Association urged HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CMS Administrator Seema Verma to “directly and expediently distribute to rural and urban hospitals and health systems” the money from the public health emergency fund in the stimulus legislation amounting to $25,000 per hospital bed, or $30,000 per bed in coronavirus “hot spots.”
Meanwhile, hospital losses are mounting as they suspend elective surgeries from revenue streams. “There’s intense stress on the balance sheet—across the board,” Wells Fargo Securities analyst George Huang said. “Hospitals are burning through cash very quickly.” While the newest stimulus measure will help prop up hospitals in the immediate future, analysts warned that more money will be needed to stem losses and the drain on reserves. Shruti Date Singh and Lauren Coleman-Lochner have more.
Trump Dust off Infrastructure Ideas: President Donald Trump called on Congress to provide $2 trillion for U.S. infrastructure, seizing on the coronavirus outbreak to try once again to advance one of his longest-standing priorities, Mark Niquette reports.
Trump said in a tweet yesterday that timing is good for a massive infrastructure bill — a measure to fund construction and repairs of roads, bridges, railroads or other public works projects — because interest rates are close to zero.
“With interest rates for the United States being at ZERO, this is the time to do our decades long awaited Infrastructure Bill. It should be VERY BIG & BOLD, Two Trillion Dollars, and be focused solely on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our Country! Phase 4,” he wrote.
Trump has long advocated for an infrastructure plan but has never settled on how to finance it.
Speaking at his daily coronavirus briefing last night, Trump said low rates would allow the country to borrow cheaply to finance spending on infrastructure. He said none of the funds should go toward environmental initiatives called for in the Democrats’ Green Deal.
Infrastructure spending could help blunt the surge in unemployment and businesses failures expected to result from the coronavirus pandemic and economic shutdown.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) will hold a press conference call today at 11:30 a.m. to discuss infrastructure priorities for phase 4 legislation.
House Democrats proposed a $760 billion infrastructure plan in late January, which covered roads, bridges, rail, broadband, and water. However, they have yet to convert it to legislation.
Mnuchin Urged to Defend Oversight of Funds: Senate Democrats called on Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to provide every tool available to a new inspector general who will oversee hundreds of billions in aid to curb economic fallout from the coronavirus. Democrats are angry that Trump issued a statement Friday saying he’d gag a new inspector general intended to oversee distribution of $500 billion in relief to companies. Several White House aides were unhappy that Mnuchin agreed to the oversight in the first place, according to two people familiar with the matter. Read more from Megan Howard.
Sway Over Municipal Rescue: Congressional Democrats are also pushing to have the Federal Reserve take over the rescue of state and local debt markets, cutting the Treasury Department out of the decision-making. The central bank is expected to announce a new emergency facility to support municipal debt, part of the $2 trillion stimulus approved last week. It had the backing of progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans alike. They’re urging the Fed and Treasury to move quickly. Read more from Daniel Flatley, Craig Torres, and Amanda Albright.
Student Veteran Benefits: The House passed a bill (H.R. 6322) yesterday by unanimous consent that would preserve Veterans Affairs Department benefits for additional students who can’t complete their courses due to Covid-19. It would expand on similar legislation enacted March 21 (Public Law 116-128), authorizing payments or extending eligibility periods for students who participate in work-study or vocational rehabilitation programs, are affected by school closures, or can’t take courses online.
The measure — backed by House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.), ranking member Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), and several veterans groups — is similar to language in a sweeping coronavirus response package (H.R. 6379) that House Democratic leaders released last week.
Stimulus May Come Too Late for Businesses Already Stretched: The economic peril from the coronavirus is growing more stark every day, and the $2 trillion stimulus may not deliver a rescue in time for the many small businesses and families who lack the cash to stay afloat for more than a week or two. Many businesses shut their doors either for a lack of customers or on orders from state or local governments as emergency declarations began rolling across the country in mid-March. Yet it could be weeks more before the business loans, bigger unemployment che cks and direct payments to individuals from the stimulus plan flow into the economy.
Small businesses account for almost half of U.S. private employment. A complete collapse of even some of those enterprises not only would dash the dreams of entrepreneurs and threaten the livelihoods of many, it risks sapping the power of an eventual economic rebound as the financial distress ripples through to landlords, vendors and lenders. Read more from Mike Dorning and Anita Sharpe.
Virus Crushes Retail, Hotels, Dining: Americans are listening to government guidelines to avoid crowds, putting stores, hotels and restaurants into near-total shutdowns. Retail, dining and hospitality have been particularly hard hit by social distancing measures undertaken to stem the spread of the coronavirus, new data show. All three industries have been hit by broad share routs during March as investors survey the extent of the damage to consumption.
Widespread job cuts and losses are mounting as these three sectors remain largely closed for business. Department stores and clothing boutiques are telling shoppers to go online, restaurants have either closed completely or converted to delivery and takeout, and hotels are trying to survive with empty rooms. Transactions at American hotels plummeted 96% over the past week, compared with the week of Feb. 2, as confirmed cases began to spread in the U.S., according to payment processor Shift4. The data looks at more than 21,000 hotels across the country.
Foot traffic is down 100% year-on-year over the last seven days in restaurants across 42 U.S. states and fell precipitously after nationwide restrictions were put in place requiring Americans to stay at home, according to data from OpenTable. The 54,000 restaurants listed on the reservation site have reported almost no dine-in activity at all for the last week. The data tracks dine-in traffic across online, phone bookings and walk-ins and does not include deliveries or takeout orders. Read more from Kim Bhasin and Ed Ludlow.
U.S. Bets Furloughed is Better than Fired for 600,000 Workers: The wreckage appeared overwhelming the past few days as U.S. retailers furloughed hundreds of thousands of employees. But some economists and lawmakers say it shows that last week’s $2 trillion stimulus package to combat the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic is working as designed by keeping workers attached to companies and receiving health benefits. “You stay on that employer’s work list. If you have health benefits with the employer, you can keep getting them. But, and most impo rtantly, the federal government will pay your salary — your full salary — for four months,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said last week. Read more from Matt Townsend.
Bailed-Out Airlines Can Cut More Flights: U.S. passenger airlines would be required to maintain minimum service levels to American cities in exchange for taxpayer financial support, but could dramatically cut their flights under a plan proposed by the Transportation Department yesterday.
Airlines would be permitted to consolidate flights to a single airport in cities with more than one under the proposal. In addition, airlines that fly to one city from multiple hubs would be allowed to fly to that city from a single hub under the plan.
The document outlines how the DOT would approach the tricky task of ensuring airlines continue flying to American cities in exchange for a share of $50 billion in taxpayer aid even as they slash flights to cope with plummeting demand. The department has asked for public comments by April 2. Ryan Beene and Alan Levin outline the plan.
Airlines Seen Burning $61 Billion: Airlines will burn through as much as $61 billion worldwide in the second quarter, industry group IATA predicted, warning that carriers could run out of cash as travel hits a low point in the coronavirus crisis.
Airline revenue is set to crater by 68% during the period, the International Air Transport Association, which represents some 290 carriers, said yesterday. It urged governments to relax rules that could force the industry to fork out cash refunds for canceled trips totaling as much as $35 billion.
In all, IATA expects the airline industry to post a net loss of as much as $39 billion in the second quarter, Siddharth Philip reports.
Airport Aid: The $10 billion allocated for airports under the third coronavirus stimulus bill (Public Law 116-136) will be available in April, the FAA said last night. The agency will release more details on distribution next week.
Research Efforts, Testing and Treatments
Trump Warns of Painful Weeks With Death Toll of 200,000
President Donald Trump warned Americans yesterday that the country faces “a very tough two weeks” ahead as deaths from Covid-19 are expected to peak. The top public health official coordinating the coronavirus task force said as many as 200,000 Americans are projected to die from the virus in the coming months.
“This is going to be a painful two weeks,” Trump said at a White House briefing. “Our strength will be tested. Our endurance will be tried.” His somber presence stood in contrast to an optimistic, upbeat tone he’s projected in prior briefings.
The data that virus task force coordinator Deborah Birx revealed was the same information that propelled Trump to retreat from ambitions to urge Americans back to work by Easter. He made the comments, even with another 30 days of the most stringent public health restrictions in place.
The leading scientists on the White House Coronavirus Task Force have said that several public studies bolster their belief that the coronavirus could bring with it an even greater death toll in the coming weeks. The projection by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts that the toll will dramatically spike in April from roughly 4,500 to almost 60,000 people, even with the isolation measures in place around the country.
During the briefing, a slide was displayed showing one projection where even with efforts by communities to mitigate the virus, deaths could reach as high as 240,000.
The soaring rate of infections is expected to strain hospitals that are already struggling to care for infected patients and obtain desperately needed medical supplies. The University of Washington study projects that at the outbreak’s peak, roughly 220,000 hospital beds and 26,000 ventilators will be needed.
By April 15, when the death count is expected to peak, over 2,200 Americans will die of the disease per day, according to the model. Both Trump and Birx pointed to the University of Washington report on a call with governors earlier this week. The study indicates that the pace of deaths will level in May and June, eventually reaching almost 84,000 by the first week of August. Read more from Justin Sink and Mario Parker.
White House Will Not Reopen Obamacare Enrollment for Virus: Trump will not reopen the Obamacare exchanges to allow uninsured Americans to purchase health care coverage during the coronavirus pandemic, a White House official said Tuesday night. The decision comes after the president said last week he was considering a special enrollment period to allow individuals to purchase insurance during the crisis — a move that had been endorsed by America’s Health Insurance Plans, the trade organization representing health insurers.
Ultimately, however, the administration opted against a national mandate that would have mirrored steps that states like New York, California, Connecticut, and Maryland are taking. In New York, people without insurance “can apply within 60 days of losing coverage,” according to the state website. Read more from Justin Sink.
Seeking Consensus on Mask Wearing: Federal officials are actively discussing whether all people should wear masks in public amid the pandemic, Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Brett Giroir told Fox News. Giroir, who said he isn’t ready to give his opinion on the topic yet, said that the issue concerns whether asymptomatic carriers of the virus can protect others by wearing a mask. “We’ll have a consensus opinion very, very soon about that,” he said.
Separately, Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN that the Trump administrations task force is discussing the wider use of masks. He said there’s still a shortage of masks and commercial ones need to be prioritized for health-care workers. Jordan Fabian and Vivek Shankar have more.
One Ventilator, Two Patients: Hospitals, as “an absolute last resort,” may put two Covid-19 patients on a single ventilator, the HHS said in an open letter. The department gave hospitals the green light as they prepare for the possibility of not having enough ventilators to care for all the patients who are struggling to breathe while ill with Covid-19. Hospitals should first use other ventilator types—like those used for anesthesia, transporting patients, and sleep apnea—prior to co-venting patients, Surgeon General Jerome Adams and HHS’s Giroir said in the letter released yesterday.
Putting a patient on a ventilator is already very risky. It comes with a 40% to 60% mortality rate, according to physician and patient safety organizations, including the Society of Critical Care Medicine and American Society of Anesthesiologists. There are “significant technical challenges” to using a single ventilator for more than one patient, according to the groups, including an unequal distribution of gas. Read more from Shira Stein.
Ventilator Patient Drugs Run Low: Demand for medicine given to patients on ventilators is outstripping supply, said pharmaceutical-purchasing group Vizient, which works with over half of U.S. hospitals and health systems. Hospital orders for sedatives, analgesics, and neuromuscular inhibitors increased 58% overall in March compared with January, Vizient said. The medications are used to prevent movement, manage pain and soothe patients who can’t breathe without the aid of a machine. Read more from Riley Griffin.
Loosened Federal Health Rules: The White House is playing catch-up, relaxing and temporarily scrapping rules that some hospitals have already had to ignore as they cope with a flood of patients, dwindling supplies and a shortage of staff. Agencies have waived rules for nursing homes, boosted insurance coverage for testing under Medicare Part B, and eased some patient privacy regulations. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services went even further this week, making an array of changes to allow hospitals to treat more people in temporary facilities, relieve them of certain paperwork and beef up their workforce, Valerie Bauman and Lydia Wheeler report.
Putin Sends Military Plane with Coronavirus Aid to Help US: A Russian military plane loaded with medical equipment took off from outside of Moscow Wednesday after President Vladimir Putin offered Donald Trump help for the U.S. battle with coronavirus.“ The Russian side offered assistance amid the dire epidemiological situation in America,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told state-run Channel One Tuesday. “Trump gratefully accepted this humanitarian aid.” After his comments, a video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry showed a transport plane filled with boxes it said contained masks and other medical equipment taking off from a Moscow region airfield in darkness. Trump and Putin have maintained a close relationship despite tensions between the U.S. and Russia over issues ranging from U.S. intelligence agency finding that Russia interfered in American elections to the Kremlin’s role in Ukraine and Syria. The Kremlin denies that it has meddled in American elections. After Putin made the offer during a Monday conversation with Trump, the U.S. president praised the assistance as “very nice.” Some within Trump’s administration were less upbeat about the help, according to Peskov. “There was an impression that some of the people on the American side at the very least didn’t contribute to the prompt resolution of technical issues in order to carry out the agreements between the two presidents,” he said. The shipment comes amid a growing coronavirus outbreak in Russia, where some critics believe the official statistics understate the real situation. Russia on Wednesday reported a 19% increase in cases overnight, bringing the total number of infected to 2,777. The Kremlin hopes that the U.S. will reciprocate with medical assistance as it increases its production capacity if Russia needs help, Peskov said. The latest aid shipment comes less than a week after Jack Ma, China’s richest man, donated more than a million masks and 200,000 coronavirus test systems to the Russian military.
Insulin During Outbreak: The drug pricing advocacy organization Patients for Affordable Drugs sent letters to the heads of the three major makers of insulin asking them to lower their prices during the coronavirus pandemic. The group, along with dozens of insulin users, penned the letter to executives with Eli Lilly, Sanofi and Novo Nordisk saying financial hardships will worsen during the outbreak in the U.S. and their current charity programs aren’t enough to help diabetic people weather the storm, Alex Ruoff reports.
Abortion Limits During Outbreak: The coronavirus is adding new ammunition to America’s abortion wars, with several states putting in place limits against the procedure and saying abortions are non-essential services during the pandemic. Those restrictions have prompted legal challenges and a flurry of judicial rulings—yesterday, judges in Texas, Ohio, and Alabama blocked the state actions. One state has already seen that decision put on hold: a judge panel at a New Orleans appeals court temporarily halted the Texas judge’s orde r on a 2-1 vote. This will allow Texas to continue to ban most abortions until judges can more fully weigh the issue on an accelerated schedule.
It’s not just red states that are seizing on the virus to advance their positions. A group of 21 blue states urged the Trump administration to ease restrictions on a medication-induced abortion prescription drug, noting that many women are currently unable to seek in-person care. And one Democratic-led group is vying to get the federal government to lift a ban on fetal tissue research, arguing that a search for a cure for coronavirus needs to be a “top priority.” Patricia Hurtado, Cynthia Koons, and Edvard Pettersson have more.
Filling Prescriptions During Crises: Reps. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.) and Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) unveiled a measure yesterday that would seek to make sure “consumers receive notice if they are able to fill their prescriptions in advance during public health emergencies,” according to a statement. Their bill, formally introduced on Friday, would require health insurance providers to give families notices of their options “to collect more of their necessary prescriptions at one time.” This could reduce the time that Americans would need to spend in public areas like a pharmacy, the statement says.
Other News Stories
Medical Certificates: Certain pilots and flight engineers that fly outside the U.S. can work with an expired medical certificate until June 30, the FAA said last night. The agency is trying to help pilots avoid in-person medical exams so that doctors can focus on coronavirus patients. A pilot’s medical certificate must expire before May 31 to qualify.
Quarantine and Airports: Local airports should get at least a 48-hour heads-up before state quarantine orders are implemented, the FAA said in a guide to help state officials implement coronavirus restrictions. State officials should also consider how air travel can help groups evade stay-in-place orders, the agency said.
Flight Attendant Volunteering: The nation’s largest flight attendant union is asking members to volunteer at hospitals and medical centers. Flight attendants learn basic first aid, CPR, and initial medical evaluation and assessment skills as part of their training, said Taylor Garland, spokesperson for the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. The union asked members in a notice yesterday to volunteer for in-person or virtual medical tasks.
Auto Sales Collapse Looms: A year that started off well for the U.S. auto market, with only a subtle down shift expected following years of strong demand is suddenly shaping up to be a disaster. Numbers being released today are expected to be far weaker in the following months.
“The whole world is turned upside down right now,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights for market researcher Edmunds, which sees the industry’s annualized selling rate slowing to 11.9 million in March. That would be the worst reading since the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan and interrupted shipments of cars and components for months. Keith Naughton forecasts today’s auto numbers.
New York MTA Needs Federal Aid: New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority needs more help from the federal and state governments to ensure it can keep paying bondholders as ridership plummets because of the coronavirus, agency head Pat Foye said yesterday.
“We’re obviously one of the largest borrowers in the muni market and the MTA making its principal and interest payments is incredibly helpful to the overall market,” said Foye, who is recovering from Covid-19, during an appearance on The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. “To be able to do that, we’re going to need additional support from the federal government and we’re going to have to come up with a plan that we’re hard at work on, which will also include some non-financial legislative changes in Alb any.”
Congress approved $25 billion for mass-transit systems throughout the U.S. in its $2 trillion economic stimulus package. The MTA will receive $4 billion of those funds to help cover lost revenue and growing expenses, Michelle Kaske reports.
Trump Wraps Up Push to Gut Auto Efficiency Rules: The Trump administration yesterday took the final step in its three-year quest to dismantle Obama-era fuel-economy and greenhouse gas emissions regulations for automobiles, Ryan Beene and Jennifer A. Dlouhy report.
Ellen M. Gilmer previews what to expect in terms of court challenges to the rule.
Litigation is still underway challenging last year’s move by the Trump administration to strip California of its power to set limits on auto emissions of greenhouse gases that are stricter than those of the federal government. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra yesterday threatened more to come. Environmental groups also vowed to fight the new plan in court.
Trump’s initiative has fractured the auto industry as Ford has sided with California while General Motors, Toyota and Fiat Chrysler back the Trump administration’s position. Volvo’s U.S. cars unit plans to voluntarily reduce tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions under targets set by California regulators, the state’s top clean-air official said yesterday.
Meanwhile, Trump yesterday attacked automakers, chiding their “foolish executives” over the fuel efficiency rules. He claimed that unidentified company leaders were being “politically correct” by not endorsing his efforts to ease gas mileage and emissions regulations for automobiles, Ryan Beene, Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Keith Naughton report.
Democrats on Capitol Hill are also speaking out against the rule. Speaker Pelosi released a statement, saying the administration’s plan “weakens America in the fight against the climate crisis” and will “unleash massive amounts of pollution into the air at the worst possible time.”
“As the nation combats one crisis devastating our health and economy, Trump is committed to worsening another crisis devastating our climate and air quality. This dirty cars rule will result in vehicles that are more polluting, more expensive, and less safe,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement.
Amtrak Arrival Oversight: Amtrak’s train delays and on-time arrivals would be published quarterly, under a rule the Federal Railroad Administration proposed yesterday.
If trains aren’t punctual an average of 80% of the time for two consecutive quarters, the Surface Transportation Board would investigate.
Congress directed the FRA and Amtrak to create minimum quality standards for the passenger rail system in 2008 (Public Law 110-432), and they began developing them in 2009. That process stopped when a court found that part of the law was unconstitutional. The two restarted the process in July 2019. The agency wants to hold a public hearing on yesterday’s proposal, but hasn’t announced a date.
Trump to Give 90-Day Deferral for Some Tariffs: Trump approved a proposal to delay payment of certain tariffs by three months, according to people familiar with the matter. The executive order, which could come as soon as this week, would apply to a 25% tariff the U.S. charges on imported light trucks — dubbed the “chicken tax” that has been in place since the 1960s — which Trump has touted as a reason for that industry’s success, Jenny Leonard reports.
Trump at a White House press briefing last night denied plans for delaying tariff payments in regards China. But the tariff deferrals expected to be announced don’t apply to Chinese goods, they would apply to the most-favored nation tariffs, which are imposed on a non-discriminatory basis to countries exporting certain products to the U.S. such as footwear and apparel.
Halt in Moving Troops: Civilian moving companies, denied a requested $186.6 million bailout in the most recent pandemic relief legislation Congress cleared, should be protected from financial failure amid a halt in military shipments, a top general said. Gen. Steve Lyons, the head of U.S. Transportation Command, said he is keeping in close contact with the industry following the halt of all shipments of troops’ personal belongings to new job postings March 12. The pause came as the military imposed wider restrictions aimed at slowing infections. Read more from Travis J. Tritten.
De Blasio Hires Wall Builder for Hospitals: The company New York Mayor Bill de Blasio chose to construct emergency hospitals at the National Tennis Center in Queens and a cruise-ship terminal in Brooklyn also holds a federal contract to build a portion of Trump’s border wall, a project de Blasio has railed against for three years, describing it and the president as “racist” and “inhumane.” SLSCO of Galveston, Texas has extensive experience in fast-tracking emergency disaster relief and was awarded a $789 million contract for border wall replacement a year ago to work on a stretch south of Santa Teresa, N.M., according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Henry Goldman and Amanda Albright have more.
Navy Rejects Captain’s Plea: A U.S. Navy captain’s dramatic plea to evacuate most sailors from an aircraft carrier struck by the coronavirus was tamped down by an admiral who called for a more gradual rotation of crew members off the ship that’s sidelined in Guam. Citing an “ongoing and accelerating” danger on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Captain Brett Crozier sent his Navy superiors a memo pleading, “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die.” He called for removing all but a skeleton crew off the carrier, where sailors are in close quarters, so that they can be isolated and tested.
Asked whether the carrier should be evacuated, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said yesterday evening that “I don’t think we are at that point.”
“At this point in time, we are trying to make sure that we contain the virus, that we deploy testing kits, and we get a good assessment of how much of the crew is infected,” Esper said in an interview on the “CBS Evening News.” Read more from Roxana Tiron, Travis J. Tritten, and Glen Carey.
California, Texas to Release Inmates: California and Texas are planning cuts to their jail populations with early releases to limit the spread of the coronavirus in the states’ overcrowded prison systems. California plans to grant early parole to as many as 3,500 inmates convicted of non-violent crimes while a federal judge in Houston on Tuesday ordered Harris County officials to start processing and releasing about 250 non-violent pre-trial detainees per day. Read more from Robert Burnson and Laurel Calkins.
Carnival Begs for Florida Dock for Virus-Beset Ships: Carnival urged Florida’s Broward County to accept on humanitarian grounds two Holland America Line ships, one bearing sick passengers, as they sailed for Fort Lauderdale with nowhere else to turn. Dozens of people have shown flulike symptoms on board the Zaandam, which was denied requests to dock in ports across Latin America. It had been sailing there on a voyage that left Buenos Aires on March 7. The ship’s chief maritime officer said two people needed urgent medical evacuation. Read more from Jonathan Levin.
Stashing Oil in Federal Storage: The Energy Department is considering renting space in the nation’s emergency oil reserve to domestic producers awash in crude, according to three people familiar with the matter who asked for anonymity before a formal announcement. The move would help drillers running out of space to stash their product amid cheap prices and low demand. With storage space and pipelines filling up with crude, domestic producers could begin to curtail drilling. Read more from Ari Natter, Jennifer A. Dlouhy, and Stephen Cunningham.
Separately, Trump said the U.S. would meet with Saudi Arabia and Russia with the goal of staunching an historic plunge in oil prices. Trump, speaking at the White House yesterday, said he’s raised the issue in conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. “They’re going to get together and we’re all going to get together and we’re going to see what we can do,” he said. “The two countries are discussing it. And I am joining at the appropriate time , if need be.” Read more from Justin Sink and Brian Eckhouse.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) also weighed in on oil storage, saying that the U.S. government should publish timely data on oil storage capacity, which she says can be an indicator of potential production shut-ins. “Producers will continue to produce, filling up all kinds of tanks and tankers, until capacity is reached,” Murkowski wrote in a letter to the head of the Energy Information Administration, Cunningham reports.
Today on the Hill
- 10:00 am – In-House Pool Call Time
- 12:00 pm – Trump receives his intelligence briefing
- 2:30 pm – Trump participates in a phone call with military families on COVID-19 response
- 5:00 pm – Members of the Coronavirus Task Force hold a press briefing
- On recess and scheduled to return April 20th
- On recess