COVID-19: Federal Update (6/23)

Quick Takes

— PARTISAN FAULT LINES EMERGE ON SENATE POLICE REFORM PROPOSAL. Democrats have indicated that they will filibuster the measure over policy and process concerns.

— DEMOCRATS DETAIL $1.5T GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE PLAN. House Democrats on Monday released new details about their $1.5 trillion green infrastructure plan slated to come to a vote as early as next week.

— WH TO WAIT ON JUNE JOBS NUMBERS BEFORE NEGOTIATING ON ‘CARES 2.0.’ The timeline for another round of COVID-19 relief legislation remains in flux.

— CMS RELEASES COVID-19 DATA, ISSUES CALL TO ACTION ON VALUE-BASED CARE. The new data highlights racial and socioeconomic divides among Medicare beneficiaries who were infected. 

 Capitol Hill Update

— PARTISAN FAULT LINES EMERGE ON SENATE POLICE REFORM PROPOSAL. Congress is gearing up for debate on dueling police reform proposals, but partisan disagreements may prevent the effort from getting off the ground in the upper chamber. As the Senate eyes consideration of the GOP’s Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere (JUSTICE) Act this week, Democratic Senators have indicated that they will filibuster the measure over policy and process concerns. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will need at least seven Democrats to vote with Senate Republicans in order to gain the 60 votes necessary to advance the bill for full consideration. For more on the state of play with respect to the Congressional police reform efforts, click here to read TRP’s comprehensive analysis. 

Washington Insider: What We’re Reading

The Hill: Democrats Detail their $1.5T Green Infrastructure Plan

House Democrats on Monday released new details about their $1.5 trillion green infrastructure plan slated to come to a vote as early as next week. The legislation, unveiled Thursday, would funnel hundreds of billions of dollars toward transportation and broadband, along with investments in schools and hospitals, with requirements to reduce emissions and clean up industry woven throughout the bill.

Roll Call: Delayed COVID-19 Aid Spurs Search for Faster Payments

Financial aid meant to assist Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic has been slow to reach the most vulnerable, who are often disconnected from the banking system, sparking conversations in Congress about making the aging U.S. payments system faster and more accessible. Although many Americans received federal assistance within a couple of weeks through direct deposits, about 34 million people waited a month or more for paper checks. The Treasury estimates that an additional 30 million to 35 million are still waiting on their payments. 

McClatchy: White House Considers Tourism Tax Break for Americans

A proposal to boost tourism by providing tax breaks for Americans who travel inside the United States is being “actively” considered by the White House for inclusion in the next coronavirus stimulus package. Three White House officials told McClatchy the tax credit for travel, which has been sharply curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic, is among the economic recovery proposals under discussion. They plan to make a formal recommendation to Congress next month.

The Hill: Trump Says he Supports Another Round of Stimulus Checks

President Trump said Monday that he would support another round of stimulus checks to help the economy bounce back after the coronavirus pandemic. The president confirmed he was open to a second stimulus check in an interview with Scripps local TV news. When asked about whether he was going to give Americans another round of payments, he said, “Yeah, we are. We are.” 

2020 Election State of Play

TRUMP VS. BIDEN. Current polling projects a close, hard fought race for the White House in 2020. Recently, Vice President Biden has shown a consistent lead in national polls, as well as a slight edge in key swing state polls such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida, The Democratic nominee is also demonstrating strong poll numbers in traditionally red states such as Arizona, Georgia, and Texas. It’s still very early, but these indicators tell us to expect a close race. 

  • RCP Aggregate: Biden +9.5 percent (source)
  • 538 Aggregate: Biden +9.2 percent (source)
  • PredictIt Market: Biden (57¢) Trump (43¢) (source)
  • Gallup POTUS Approval (6/4): 39 percent (source)

 What policies has Vice President Biden championed his 2020 presidential bid? Check out Thorn Run Partner’s analysis of the Democratic nominee’s health and economic policy platforms.

COVID-19: What We’re Hearing

— ‘CARES 2.0’ STATE OF PLAY. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has indicated that Congress will likely need to pass another round of COVID-19 relief legislation, Republicans are pushing for a more narrowly-targeted relief package following better-than-expected jobs numbers for the month of May, and the White House would prefer to wait and see the June labor numbers before negotiating with Congress in earnest. Conversely, Congressional Democrats are remaining steadfast on their push for another robust stimulus package. As the public health emergency continues to unfold, lawmakers are mulling over several policy options for the next round of legislation, including:

  • Liability. Leader McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) are working on legislation that would limit the liabilities of health care workers, business owners, and employees from lawsuits pertaining to the COVID-19 outbreak. Leader McConnell emphasized that any future COVID-19 relief efforts must include these protections in order for the Senate to consider additional relief legislation.
  • House Democratic leadership appears open to negotiating a deal on liability protections. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) emphasized that these protections must not undermine the health and rights of workers, but indicated that the issue is open for further discussion and negotiation.
  • Unemployment Reform. Senate Republicans are spearheading efforts on reforming the enhanced unemployment benefits so that generous payments approved in the CARES Act don’t become an obstacle to rehiring workers.
  • A key option on the table includes enhancing a tax credit that would give employers a tax break for keeping workers on the payroll.
  • State and Local Governments. Funding for state and local governments is a key pillar of the Democrats’ next stimulus bill. While there is bipartisan agreement that more needs to be done to help stymie economic hardships for these entities, allocating additional funding has become a divisive issue within the Republican conference.
  • It appears likely that some Senate Republicans — particularly those who are up for re-election — would coalesce behind a bipartisan proposal that would provide additional funding and flexibility to address needs at the state and local level.
  • PPP. Following Congressional passage of the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act, Lawmakers are eyeing further reforms to the PPP.
  • Prior to Senate passage of H.R. 7010, Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Mike Lee (R-UT) — who had expressed concerns and opposition to the House-passed bill secured a letter from key Small Business Committee members in both chambers clarifying that the intent of the legislation is not to reauthorize the program through the end of the year without additional reforms.
  • Small Business Committee Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) have also indicated they are working on a technical change to the legislation that would ensure businesses can have their loans forgiven in some form regardless of whether they reach the 60 percent threshold.
  • Additionally, there has been a bipartisan push in Congress to expand PPP eligibility to 501(c)6 organizations and other currently ineligible nonprofits in the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation. 
  • Surprise Billing. Reports out of the Trump administration suggest that the White House will push for action on surprise medical bills ahead of the next round of relief legislation.
  • During the CARES Act negotiations, Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) were actively trying to tack their surprise billing legislation onto the package. 
  • Budget Reform. A bipartisan group of House lawmakers penned a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) calling for provisions that address the federal debt and trust funds for Medicare and Social Security to be included in the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation.

APPROPRIATIONS UPDATE. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend the Congressional schedule, lawmakers are adjusting their expectations for consideration of fiscal year (FY) 2021 spending bills.

  • House. Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) officially announced the House Appropriations Subcommittee markup schedule for the week of Jul. 6.
  • Jul. 6: State & Foreign Operations, Agriculture, Military Construction-VA
  • Jul. 7: Homeland Security, Interior-Environment, Legislative Branch, Energy-Water, Labor-HHS-Education
  • Jul. 8: Commerce-Science-Justice, Transportation-Housing and Urban Development, Financial Services and General Government, Defense.
  • Senate. Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) is delaying the forthcoming markups ahead of the July 4 recess amid partisan disagreements over COVID-19 relief and police reform amendments that Democrats want to offer. 

When the Appropriations Committee begins its markup process, appropriators will look to skip subcommittee markups for seven out of the FY 2021 spending bills, going straight to full committee markups instead. Senators on the panel are also expected to vote on the 302(b) funding allocations for each of the 12 bills ahead of the forthcoming markups.

COVID-19 Legislative & Regulatory Trackers

NEW TODAY…

— CMS RELEASES COVID-19 DATA, ISSUES CALL TO ACTION ON VALUE-BASED CARE. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released new data on the COVID-19 outbreak that highlights racial and socioeconomic divides among Medicare beneficiaries who were infected. As a result of this data, the agency is calling for a renewed national commitment to value-based care.

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS…

— SBA, TREASURY REACH AGREEMENT ON PPP TRANSPARENCY. The Small Business Administration (SBA) and Treasury Department reached an agreement with Congress to disclose information regarding recipients of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The names of businesses who received loans ranging from $150,000 to $10 million will be disclosed publicly by the federal government.

— SBA LAUNCHES TOOL TO CONNECT BUSINESSES WITH CDFIS AND SMALL ASSET LENDERS. SBA launched an online tool for small businesses and non-profits to be matched with Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs), Certified Development Companies (CDCs), Farm Credit System lenders, Microlenders, as well as traditional smaller asset size lenders in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

— CMS ANNOUNCES MEMBERSHIP OF INDEPENDENT CORONAVIRUS COMMISSION ON SAFETY AND QUALITY IN NURSING HOMES. CMS announced the membership of the Independent Coronavirus Commission on Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes.

  • The Commission will conduct an assessment of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in nursing homes and make recommendations on actions and best practices for immediate and future actions.

— HHS TO HOLD WEBINARS ON PROVIDER RELIEF FUND. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will hold two webcasts this week for providers to learn more about the application process for the $15 billion Medicaid and CHIP targeted allotment. 

— IRS ISSUES GUIDANCE ON CARES TELEHEALTH AND VIRTUAL CARE FLEXIBILITIES. The IRS recently outlined flexibilities and issued guidance addressing the CARES safe harbor provision allowing high deductible health plans (HDHPs) with health savings accounts (HSAs) to cover telehealth and remote care before a patient reaches their deductible. The temporary flexibility applies to services provided on or after Jan. 1, 2020, for plan years beginning on or before Dec. 31, 2021.

— SBA, TREASURY ANNOUNCE NEW AND REVISED FORGIVENESS APPLICATION FOR PPP. The SBA and Treasury Department posted a revised Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgiveness application as mandated by the PPP Flexibility Act.

  • SBA also published a new “EZ version” of the forgiveness application that applies to borrowers that: (1) are self-employed and have no employees; or (2) did not reduce the salaries or wages of their employees by more than 25 percent, nor the number of hours for their employees; or (3) experienced reductions in business activity as a result of of the pandemic, and did not reduce the salaries or wages of their employees by more than 25 percent.

— HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE LAUNCHES INVESTIGATION INTO COVID-19 DEATHS IN NURSING HOMES. The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis officially launched an investigation into COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes. Click here to read the letter to the CMS.

— SBA REOPENS EIDL AND EIDL ADVANCE PROGRAM. The SBA announced that it has reopened the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and EIDL Advance program portal to all eligible applicants experiencing economic impacts due to COVID-19.

— FEDERAL RESERVE TO EXPAND MAIN STREET LENDING PROGRAM TO NONPROFITS. The Federal Reserve announced it will be seeking feedback on a proposal to expand the Main Street Lending Program for nonprofit organizations.

  • The proposal would make loans available to 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(19) organizations with 50 to 15,000 employees, but 501(c)(6)s and nonprofits with endowments larger than $3 billion would not be eligible under the program.

  — HHS ANNOUNCES $25 BILLION IN RELIEF FUNDING FOR MEDICAID PROVIDERS, SAFETY NET HOSPITALS. HHS announced the allocation of $25 billion from the Provider Relief Fund, including $15 billion for Medicaid and CHIP providers, as well as $10 billion for safety net hospitals. TRP’s comprehensive analysis of the COVID-19 provider relief fund can be read here.

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