The TFG Coronavirus Update will be published weekly on Thursdays until September 14 when we will resume our normal schedule.
In a rare move, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called lawmakers back to Washington this week during the August recess to consider legislation regarding U.S. Postal Service (USPS) operations. Some lawmakers expressed strong concerns that operational and organizational changes being implemented by the Postmaster General could impact the November elections due to slowed mail deliveries (millions of additional mail-in ballots are expected due to the coronavirus pandemic). The House is scheduled to vote on the legislation this Saturday, August 22. In addition to prohibiting USPS from implementing any changes to operations or level of service, the legislation would also provide USPS with an additional $25 billion to bolster its operational capacity. The Postmaster General has since said he plans to postpone the proposed changes until after the election, but the House is still planning to proceed with its Saturday vote.
The Senate is not expected to pass a stand-alone USPS bill. After this week, we do not expect legislative activity to resume in earnest until mid-September. It is possible additional coronavirus relief legislation could be considered before mid-September, but that possibility continues to be unlikely. Discussions between Congressional leaders and the White House continue, but progress on a bipartisan deal is still out of reach. Senate Republicans released a “skinny” coronavirus relief proposal this week, but Democrats remain resistant to approving a smaller relief package.
The Senate “skinny” proposal would include, among other items:
- $300 in weekly unemployment insurance benefits through December 27
- $158 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program
- $105 billion for K-12 schools and college and universities
- $29 billion for COVID-19 vaccine and drug development and distribution
- $16 billion for testing and contact tracing
- $10 billion to forgive a USPS loan
Liability protections for businesses, schools, and health care professionals
The Hill reports the coronavirus fatality rate in the US is falling citing improved treatments, younger patients, and more widespread testing.
Capitol Hill. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Tina Smith (D-MN) sent a letter to HHS and the CDC requesting that data be collected on coronavirus cases linked to colleges in order to monitor disparities among students and staff. “As colleges and universities start the new academic year, there is wide variation in their plans for residential life and in-person learning and there is currently no national method for reporting and tracking COVID-19 cases at these institutions,” the letter states.
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) clarified in a report that Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) under the CARES Act are excluded from a veteran’s annual income, thereby preventing EIPs from counting toward the income limit associated with pension eligibility. Some veterans are concerned EIPs would negatively impact their pensions.
CRS also published a report addressing the impact of the pandemic on civil aviation operations, noting the International Air Transport Association expects full recovery to take until at least 2023.
Administration. HUD announced new flexibilities states and local governments can use in order to best utilize Community Development Block Grant (CDBG-CV) funds appropriated by the CARES Act, as well as other funds, to support their communities in response to the coronavirus. The new flexibilities available to communities in administering their CDBG-CV funds include: states may carry out activities directly or pass funds through to local governments in both rural and urban areas throughout the state; economic development rules updated and streamlined; and emergency payments to a provider or landlord on behalf of a family or individuals may extend for up to six months. The official Federal Register Notice is here.
HHS issued an amendment to the Declaration under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act) to increase access to lifesaving childhood vaccines and decrease the risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks as children across the US return to day care and school.
HHS announced an additional $1.4 billion in targeted distribution funding to almost 80 free-standing children’s hospitals nationwide. The funding comes from the CARES Act, the Paycheck Protection Program, and Health Care Enhancement Act, which allocated $175 billion in relief funds to hospitals and other healthcare providers including those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
DOL reports initial unemployment claims this week at 1,106,000, an increase of 135,000 from last week. The 4-week moving average was 1,175,750, a decrease of 79,000 from the previous week's revised average. The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 10.2 percent for the week ending August 8, a decrease of 0.4 percentage point from the previous week's unrevised rate.
DoD and HHS, in support of Operation Warp Speed, announced the McKesson Corporation will be a central distributor of future COVID-19 vaccines and related supplies needed to administer the pandemic vaccinations.
HHS announced two combined investments of $6.5 million in two commercial diagnostic laboratories to expand capacity to conduct up to 4 million additional coronavirus tests per month. The investments will provide critical laboratory equipment and increase staffing and infrastructure to allow the US to perform an additional 1 million tests each week by early October.
The NLC released research findings on the fiscal impact of COVID-19 on municipal budgets in the 35th annual City Fiscal Conditions report, and one-pager. The report findings show the fiscal consequences that cities are facing across the country in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and how municipal budgets can recover from the impacts.
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