Coronavirus Update
June 15, 2020
Information and resources on federal response to the coronavirus crisis for towns and townships
Top News
The CDC issued new guidance urging organizers of large gatherings to require the use of cloth face coverings among staff and attendees. The new guidance coincides with President Trump’s indoor rally this Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma that will require attendees to sign a waiver before getting a ticket, and the Republican National Committee's plans to hold a full-scale convention in Jacksonville, Florida in late August.

The new CDC guidance also comes at a time when many areas of the country are experiencing spikes in confirmed coronavirus cases. This surge in cases prompted Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to request a briefing from the White House Coronavirus Task Force on the status of the pandemic and the federal government's response.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden released a plan to restart the economy and protect public health during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, including federally funded testing for every worker called back on the job, guaranteed paid sick leave for workers affected by COVID-19, and a federally coordinated contact tracing workforce. (Note: the link above accesses the Biden plan by way of a donation pop-up on the Biden campaign website). 

Capitol Hill. The Chairmen of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Mike Doyle (D-PA), respectively, sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai requesting that the FCC provide more information on the distribution of public funds through the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. As of June 10, the FCC awarded more than $104 million of the total $200 million in appropriated funds through the Program.

Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) along with 43 other bipartisan senators sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza asking that the agencies reduce the paperwork requirements for small businesses seeking Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan forgiveness.

Senate Minority Leader Schumer sent a letter , with the entire 47-member Senate Democratic Caucus, to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and SBA Administrator Carranza urging the Trump Administration to streamline and simplify the PPP program to ensure the smallest and most underserved businesses are able to easily apply.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) wrote a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar regarding the need for increased transparency of funds distributed to health care providers during the COVID-19 emergency. The Senators specifically urged Secretary Azar “to expeditiously establish a single, comprehensive and publicly available data source that easily shows the amount of funding received by each provider.” The Senators wrote, “Congress has dedicated significant resources needed to help providers deal with the dire consequences of this unprecedented situation...The magnitude of these distributions alone —in the form of grants and advance payment loans—necessitates the utmost transparency to inform providers, the public, and Congress. 

Hearings

There are numerous hearings this week, including:


Administration. The FDA announced the withdrawal of emergency use authorizations for two coronavirus treatments: hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine.

In a report to Congress, the Federal Reserve warned that small businesses may need additional government relief. The report notes that a majority of small businesses are seeing revenue losses with half not expecting to return to usual operations within the next six months. 

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow restated this weekend the $600 additional weekly unemployment benefit put into place to aid those who lost their jobs due to the coronavirus will end in late July. 

The EPA is working with FEMA to transfer an additional 22,000 pieces of excess PPE to emergency and health professionals on the COVID-19 front lines.

The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service are providing  tax relief for community development entities (CDEs) and qualified active low-income community businesses investing and conducting businesses in low-income communities. The Department, in consultation with the SBA, also issued new and revised guidance for the PPP that would expand eligibility for businesses with owners who have past felony convictions.

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin told the Wall Street Journal the Administration is considering another round of stimulus checks for individuals. The HEROES Act, passed by the House of Representatives on May 15, includes a second payment round but the Senate has not yet acted on the bill.

Secretary Mnuchin testified before the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee last Wednesday at a hearing on the implementation of Title I of the CARES Act. He outlined the Administration’s two broad concerns: where to send the stimulus funds, and how much should be spent. He noted the Administration would seek to change the approach to federal unemployment insurance, with the $600/week benefit set to expire on July 31. Mnuchin also appeared to endorse another proposal that some congressional Republicans have floated to resolve the issue by providing a $450/week back-to-work bonus incentive. The State of Idaho announced a similar program .

The Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate added a new calculator to estimate the natural decay of SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in the air under various environmental conditions.

The Office for Civil Rights at HHS issued guidance on how the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy Rule permits covered health care providers to contact their patients who have recovered from COVID-19 to inform them about how they can donate their blood and plasma containing antibodies to help other patients with COVID-19.

The Trump Administration announced that nearly 100 million cloth facial coverings will be sent to the aviation, transit, and passenger rail transportation sector for passenger use by the Departments of Transportation, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security. Approximately 86.8 million coverings will be distributed to airports, and 9.6 million coverings will be distributed to 458 transit agencies and Amtrak for passenger use. 
Advocacy & Other News
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) published a 40-page white paper entitled “Preparing for the Next Pandemic.” The paper outlines five specific recommendations Congress should act on in 2020 to “address future pandemics based on lessons learned from COVID-19 and the past 20 years of pandemic planning.” Recommendations include: (1) Tests, Treatments, and Vaccines; (2) Disease Surveillance; (3) Stockpiles, Distributions, and Surges; (4) Public Health Capabilities; and (5) Improving Coordination of Federal Agencies. Chairman Alexander is also soliciting feedback from the public on the white paper’s recommendations—the feedback is due no later than 5pm ET, Friday, June 26 and can be submitted to PandemicPreparedness@help.senate.gov

NLC hosted local and federal elected officials and Congressional staff in a virtual briefing on America’s economic recovery on June 12. NLC outlined key takeaways, including how much federal relief is needed at the local level and that support for federal aid to local governments seems to be bipartisan. 
For more information please contact NATaT Federal Director Jennifer Imo at jimo@tfgnet.com