PLEASE NOTE: Coronavirus Update will pause publication next week in observance of the Fourth of July federal holiday.
This morning, the House passed the five-year, $715 billion Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation (INVEST) in America Act (H.R. 3684), which reauthorizes highway, transit, and rail programs from fiscal year (FY) 2022 through FY 2026, in addition to drinking water and wastewater infrastructure programs. The vote was by a vote of 221-201. The INVEST in America Act is the first big piece of legislation with earmarks (Member Designated Projects) since the practice of earmarking was reinstated earlier this year.
The package includes:
- $343 billion for roads, bridges, and safety
- $109 billion for transit
- $95 billion for passenger and freight rail
- $117 billion for drinking water infrastructure and assistance
- $51.25 billion for wastewater infrastructure
A section-by-section summary of the surface transportation provisions is available here and a section-by-section summary of the water-related provisions is available here.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) said the INVEST in America Act “meets the objectives” of the Biden administration’s American Jobs Plan, which is part of the administration’s ongoing response to the economic impacts resulting from the pandemic. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) also offered some clarity earlier this week when he said the INVEST in America Act is “designed to be part of” the American Jobs Plan (E&E News).
The next part of the Biden administration’s pandemic response is the American Families Plan, which proposes significant investments in “human infrastructure” like child care, paid leave, and healthcare. Provisions from the American Families Plan may be included in a massive budget reconciliation measure that Democratic leaders want to consider sometime this month.
However, Congress and the White House are still weighing next steps on a $1.2 trillion, eight-year Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework deal reached last Thursday between President Biden and a bipartisan group of 10 senators. A lingering question is whether Democrats should tie the infrastructure bill to the reconciliation bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Tuesday said her initial strategy—to withhold a House vote on an infrastructure bill until the Senate also passes the American Families Plan via budget reconciliation—remains unchanged, a strategy that is receiving strong resistance from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other Republicans, who want the infrastructure bill to move forward separate from the reconciliation measure.
Significant discussions, negotiations, and drafting must still occur before votes can be cast on either bill. At a briefing Tuesday, Chairman DeFazio explained the INVEST in America Act will serve as the basis for negotiations with the Senate on its bipartisan infrastructure framework negotiated with the White House. Rather than waiting for the Senate to pass the bipartisan deal—which is still being written into legislative language—and then go into a formal House-Senate conference committee negotiation, immediate, high-level talks to reach a compromise would be preferable, DeFazio said. “If they want to dispatch of this quickly—and they’re talking about July, which is a very quick timeline to, you know, negotiate policy in any major way, and the numbers again to help pay for them are outside my realm so I can’t comment on them at all—then I would suggest it would probably be a much quicker, more informal process,” he said (Bloomberg News).
Meanwhile, President Biden is continuing to put pressure on Republicans opposed to the bipartisan infrastructure agreement by releasing fact sheets highlighting the infrastructure needs of each state, U.S. territory, and the District of Columbia (Bloomberg News).
On Thursday morning, the House Oversight Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis held a hearing on “Building Trust and Battling Barriers: The Urgent Need to Overcome Vaccine Hesitancy.” The hearing comes amid reports of the Delta variant spreading rapidly in the United States, particularly in communities with large unvaccinated populations. The witnesses included: Dr. Georges Benjamin (Executive Director of the American Public Health Association); Dr. Katy Milkman (Professor of Operations, Information, and Decisions at the Wharton School of Business); Dr. Jerome Adams (former Surgeon General of the United States from 2017–2021); Joshua Garza (coronavirus survivor); and Sophia Bush (actress, activist, and entrepreneur).
On June 30, the House Small Business Subcommittee on Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Workforce Development held a hearing titled “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” The hearing focused on the Next Generation Entrepreneurship Corps Act (H.R. 1226), which would establish a Corps to make investments in Main Street businesses and seeks to accomplish two main objectives: entrepreneurial inclusivity and increased entrepreneurship in distressed regions. Expert witnesses in entrepreneurship spoke about the impacts of declining entrepreneurship, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the investment needed to revitalize the entrepreneurship ecosystem.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Chairs of the Senate HELP and House Education and Labor Committees, respectively, sent a letter on June 30 to President Biden urging him to direct Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to extend the pause on federally-held student loan payments, interest, and collections until early 2022. The pause is currently set to expire on September 30, 2021.
Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Jerry Moran (R-KS) sent a letter on June 25 to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and TSA Administrator David Pekoske asking for more information on when and how the agencies will update their travel guidance for fully vaccinated people. The senators request answers from the CDC and TSA by July 12, 2021.
Treasury provided updates on several Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund matters, including the status of payments to states for distribution to non-entitlement units of local government (NEUs), an interpretation of the 75% budget cap calculation for NEUs, and its FAQ document for NEU payment distribution. Treasury also released guidance in the form of updated frequently asked questions (FAQs) and a fact sheet to continue supporting the rapid deployment of Emergency Rental Assistance.
The IRS provided an online tool to help families determine eligibility for the Child Tax Credit and upgraded its online tool to enable families to quickly and easily update their bank account information so they can receive their monthly Child Tax Credit payment. IRS also extended tax relief provided for calendar year 2021 for employers whose employees forgo sick, vacation or personal leave because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The IRS also released state-by-state data on the third round of Economic Impact Payments.
HHS awarded $1 billion to more than 1500 Head Start programs nationwide.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) finalized amendments to the federal mortgage servicing regulations to reinforce the ongoing economic recovery as the federal foreclosure moratoria are phased out and which will help protect mortgage borrowers as they exit forbearance. The rules will establish temporary special safeguards to help ensure that borrowers have time before foreclosure to explore their options, including loan modifications and selling their homes.
FEMA is amending the agency’s COVID-19 funeral assistance policy to assist with COVID-19 related fatalities that occurred in the early months of the pandemic. This policy change will allow applicants to submit a statement or letter from the death certificate’s certifying official, medical examiner, or coroner that attributes the death to COVID-19 fatalities that occurred between Jan. 20 and May 16, 2020.
As of June 29, schools and libraries may begin filing applications through August 13, 2021 for the newly established $7.171 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF), which provides financial support to purchase laptops and tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and broadband connections for off-campus use by students, school staff, and library patrons.
The Federal Communications Commission began releasing enrollment data for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program at the three-digit ZIP code level. The data can be downloaded at the following link. More than three million eligible households have enrolled in the broadband subsidy program since mid-May.
New York, which became the first state to extend a critical lifeline to restaurants early on in the pandemic by allowing them to serve cocktails to-go and by delivery, is ending its take-out beverage trend. Most other states followed New York’s lead in allowing off-site consumption. Fifteen states have passed measures to make permanent those sales and another dozen have allowed to-go sales to outlast the pandemic era.
The United Kingdom’s Department of Transport plans to ease quarantine restrictions for vaccinated residents heading home from the U.S. and many other countries in Europe in the upcoming weeks. Currently, travelers coming from an ‘amber list’ country, including the United States, are required to get tested before arrival and quarantine for at least five days before getting tested again.
Royal Caribbean cruises departing from Florida are requiring unvaccinated passengers above the age of 12 to buy travel insurance for medical and travel costs that could occur if they contract COVID-19. The insurance is required for cruises that leave from Florida from August 1 to December 31.
Sara Nelson, president of the International Association of Flight Attendants, said masks are “still very critical” for limiting the spread of COVID-19 on flights and for “layering safety.”
Many airlines are cancelling or delaying flights as they continue to cope with surging travel demand, especially as the 4th of July holiday weekend approaches.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky announced that fully vaccinated people are safe from the current variants and do not need to wear masks.
Dr. Anthony Fauci shared his concern that the widening gap between vaccinated and unvaccinated people may worsen, possibly leading to spikes in coronavirus cases. Recent studies have shown that vaccines being used in the U.S. effectively fight off the Delta variant, but unvaccinated Americans remain at high risk of catching the more contagious strain.
Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine performed well in a lab setting against variants of the virus, including the Delta variant. The vaccine produced neutralizing antibodies after two doses against Delta variant. The Moderna vaccine was granted emergency use authorization in India.
French drugmaker Sanofi announced it would direct $477 million annually to the Center of Excellence designed to speed up the research and development of mRNA vaccines.
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