COVID-19: Federal Update (6/25)

Quick Takes

— DEMOCRATS EYE VOTE ON $1.5T INFRASTRUCTURE PACKAGE. House Democrats are expected to call up a sweeping 10 year, $1.5 trillion package of infrastructure legislation.

— CREDIT REFORM BILL SET TO HIT HOUSE FLOOR. The bill would reform the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to promote “fair and accurate” credit reporting.

— CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE TO HOLD FIRST PUBLIC BRIEFING IN NEARLY 2 MONTHS AS CASES RISE. The White House announced Thursday night that Vice President Mike Pence would lead a public coronavirus task force briefing Friday morning.

— FEDERAL RESERVE PUBLISHES STRESS TEST, COVID-19 SENSITIVITY RESULTS. The Federal Reserve published results of its stress tests for 2020 and additional sensitivity analyses that the Board conducted in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 Capitol Hill Update

— DEMOCRATS EYE VOTE ON $1.5T INFRASTRUCTURE PACKAGE. House Democrats are expected to call up a sweeping 10 year, $1.5 trillion package of infrastructure legislation (text; summary; fact sheet) prior to adjourning for the July 4 district work period next week. The wide-ranging, ambitious package would allocate funding to address several key areas including surface transportation, schools and child care facilities, hospital and health care infrastructure, drinking water, housing, broadband, and green energy. It would also look to promote and expand bond financing tools to help state and local governments raise money to address their own projects. The package is likely to pass the lower chamber next week, but is considered dead-on-arrival in the GOP-controlled Senate. However, with the current surface transportation law set to expire on Sept. 30, officials will likely look to reach a compromise version that reflects bipartisan priorities in the House and Senate surface transportation reauthorization measures.

— CREDIT REFORM BILL SET TO HIT HOUSE FLOOR. On the floor for today, House lawmakers will begin consideration of a bill sponsored by Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Tom Reed (R-NY) that seeks to reform the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to promote “fair and accurate” credit reporting. Specifically, the Protecting Your Credit Score would: (1) create an online portal that provides consumers with access to free credit reports and scores; (2) give the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) with statutory authority to supervise credit reporting agencies; and (3) mandate that credit reporting agencies provide information to consumers surrounding the procurement of a credit report, among other things. While the bill is expected to pass the lower chamber at some point next week, it faces an uncertain path in the GOP-controlled Senate. Additionally, lawmakers will also consider a measure that would make Washington, D.C. the 51st state, as well as a Congressional Review Act resolution that seeks to overturn the Trump administration’s regulation pertaining to the Community Reinvestment Act.

— HOUSE READIES VOTE ON ACA STABILIZATION BILL. House Democrats are preparing to vote on a package of reforms to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for a vote next week. The bill aims to shore up health insurance subsidies, expand Medicaid eligibility, and institute direct negotiations between the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and drug manufacturers on drugs covered by Medicare Parts B and D. The drug pricing provisions mirror the negotiation and international price index provisions passed by the House in H.R. 3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act and appear intended to offset the costs of the ACA improvement legislation. CBO estimated that Title I of that bill, which is contained in this new legislation, would save nearly $456 billion over ten years. While the bill is expected to pass the House, it has no prospects of being taken up by the Senate. For more, click here to read TRP’s analysis of this measure.

Washington Insider: What We’re Reading

CNN: Coronavirus Task Force to Hold First Public Briefing in Nearly 2 Months as Cases Rise

The White House announced Thursday night that Vice President Mike Pence would lead a public coronavirus task force briefing Friday morning, the first public meeting in almost two months. The announcement comes as at least 30 states are seeing a resurgence in cases of Covid-19, and California, Oklahoma and Texas are seeing fresh high peaks. The briefing will not take place at the White House, but at the Department of Health and Human Services, according to a schedule released by the White House.

The Wall Street Journal: House Passes Democrats’ Policing Bill, but No Path Seen for Deal ($)

The House passed a Democratic bill on Thursday to overhaul the nation’s law-enforcement practices in the wake of protests over police abuses and racism, but the prospects for any legislation becoming law remained dim amid sharp differences with a rival Republican proposal. Partisan disputes quickly emerged over the scope of the legislation, and no progress was made in reaching a compromise. The bill passed 236-181 in the Democratic-controlled House, but the GOP-led Senate has called it a nonstarter. On Wednesday, Senate Democrats blocked a rival GOP bill from advancing in that chamber. 

The Hill: House Democrats Unveil Green Tax Package

House Democrats unveiled a major green tax package Thursday, offering tax incentives for renewables, electric vehicles and a host of other environmentally friendly businesses. The legislation would extend several renewable energy tax breaks, including the production tax credit and the investment tax credit. It also would expand the electric vehicle tax credit and create new tax credits for buyers of used electric cars and manufacturers of zero-emission commercial vehicles and buses.

Politico: Senate Passes China Sanctions Bill After White House Relents The Senate on Thursday passed a sweeping sanctions bill targeting China’s violations of Hong Kong’s independence, a week after the White House helped stall the legislation. The bill, which imposes mandatory sanctions on individuals, entities and banks that enable China’s encroachments through a new national security law, was adopted unanimously after Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) secured an agreement with the White House. The senators also allowed for their measure to pass alongside a resolution by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) condemning Beijing’s national security law that cracks down on Hong Kong’s sovereignty.

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…

— FEDERAL RESERVE PUBLISHES STRESS TEST, COVID-19 SENSITIVITY RESULTS. The Federal Reserve published results of its stress tests for 2020 and additional sensitivity analyses that the Board conducted in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

— CMS ISSUES SPECIAL TRENDS REPORT ON HEALTHCARE.GOV SIGNUPS DURING COVID-19 The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published a special trends report outlining the number of individuals who signed up for coverage on HealthCare.gov through a special enrollment period (SEP) during the pandemic.

— CMS TO END BLANKET WAIVER REQUIRING NURSING HOMES TO SUBMIT STAFFING DATA. CMS announced plans to end the emergency blanket waiver requiring all nursing homes to resume submitting staffing data through the Payroll-Based Journal (PBJ) system by August 14, 2020.

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS…

— HHS LAUNCHES PROGRAM AIMED AT FIGHTING COVID-19 IN MINORITY, RURAL COMMUNITIES. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a new three-year, $40 million program with the Morehouse School of Medicine to deliver COVID-19 information to minority and rural communities in an effort to combat the pandemic in these areas.

— CFPB ISSUES INTERIM FINAL RULE ON LOSS MITIGATION OPTIONS FOR HOMEOWNERS. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued an interim final rule that will allow borrowers who have experienced financial hardships due to COVID-19 to delay payments even if they have only a limited amount of information on the homeowner.

— NEW FED EXAMINER GUIDANCE SEEKS TO PROMOTE FLEXIBILITY. The Federal Reserve issued new examiner guidance that seeks to promote consistency and flexibility in the supervision and examination of financial institutions that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

— CMS RELEASES COVID-19 DATA, ISSUES CALL TO ACTION ON VALUE-BASED CARE. 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.

— 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. 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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