Yesterday, the House passed the Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021, and Other Extensions Act (H.R. 8900) by a vote of 343-67, providing a one-week extension of government funding. The extension provides time for additional negotiations on fiscal year 2021 appropriations and emergency coronavirus relief. The Senate has yet to schedule a vote, but the chamber is expected to pass H.R. 8900 before Friday, December 11, when the current stopgap CR is set to expire.
This week Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin offered House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) a $916 billion COVID relief proposal, which is broadly similar to the bipartisan, bicameral $908 billion proposal unveiled on December 1. The Trump Administration’s proposal includes $160 billion for state, local, and tribal governments, $150 billion in direct payments to individuals ($600 per person), $320 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, $30 billion for airlines, $16 billion for vaccines and testing, and “robust liability protections for businesses, schools and universities.” The plan does not include a proposed revival of $300 weekly enhanced unemployment benefits, though it would extend other federal unemployment programs set to expire in the coming weeks.
The two major sticking points in getting a final COVID relief deal done are liability protections for businesses (a Leader McConnell must have), and state and local government aid (Democratic must have). Leader McConnell suggested that both parties consider abandoning their demands on liability provisions and state/local government aid and put the issues to the side until early 2021, when another relief package may be considered by Congress. Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer rejected Leader McConnell’s proposal.
On Wednesday, a 6-page summary of the $908 billion bipartisan, bicameral COVID relief proposal was released. Among other provisions, the proposal includes:
- An “agreement in principle” to provide $160 billion in aid to state, local, and tribal governments.
- $7 billion in direct grants to states, territories, and tribes for testing and tracing.
- $2.58 billion for CDC vaccine distribution and infrastructure.
- An extension of all pandemic unemployment insurance programs by 16 weeks, from their expiration at the end of December.
- Supplemental unemployment insurance benefits expanded by $300 per week for 16 weeks, from the end of December into April 2021.
- Funding to allow to allow the hardest-hit small businesses to receive a second forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan.
- Funding for airports, including set asides for airport concessionaires, Essential Air Service, and the Small Community Air Service Development Program through March 31, 2021.
- Funding to support public transit systems across the country that will be used to prevent furloughs, meet operating needs, and keep systems running.
- Funding to allow Amtrak to continue to provide existing service and prevent additional furloughs through March 31, 2021.
- $35 billion to the Provider Relief Fund (PRF), including $7 billion for rural providers.
- $82 billion for education providers.
- $25 billion in rental assistance to states and local governments and Native American tribes through the Coronavirus Relief Fund.
- $13 billion to provide funding to address COVID-related impacts on farmers, ranchers, growers, etc., and rural communities.
- Funding to support USDA Rural Development water and wastewater programs.
- Numerous broadband-related provisions.
CDC announced the national “ensemble forecast” predicts that the number of newly reported COVID-19 deaths will likely increase over the next 4 weeks, with 12,600 to 23,400 new deaths likely to be reported in the week ending January 2, 2021. The national ensemble predicts that a total of 332,000 to 362,000 COVID-19 deaths will be reported by this date.
Capitol Hill. The Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Transportation and Safety is holding a hearing today on “The Logistics of Transporting a COVID-19 Vaccine.” The hearing will examine transportation and logistics plans for ensuring COVID-19 vaccines are delivered across the country. Witnesses include: Dr. Rachel Levine, Secretary of Health for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and President of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers; Richard Smith, Regional President of the Americas and Executive Vice President, FedEx Express; and Wesley Wheeler, President of Global Healthcare, United Parcel Service. Richard Smith said that FedEx hired 70,000 more workers to support both the surge in holiday packages and vaccine distribution in the coming weeks, while UPS added 100,000 temporary workers to get through this peak season, according to Wesley Wheeler.
The Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee is holding a hearing today on “Small Business in Crisis: The 2020 Paycheck Protection Program and its Future.”
Administration. Today the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee is meeting to discuss the first request for emergency use authorization (EUA) for a vaccine for COVID-19 prevention, submitted by Pfizer in partnership with BioNTech Manufacturing. The Hill reports Peter Marks, the director of the FDA division overseeing vaccines, said that an FDA decision would come "days to a week" after the advisory panel meeting.
CNBC reports the federal government plans to start distributing 2.9 million vaccine doses by the end of this week once the FDA grants emergency clearance for Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine. Gen. Gustave Perna, who oversees logistics for Operation Warp Speed, said an additional 2.9 million doses will be set aside for patients to get their second shot. The government has also set aside a reserve of 500,000 doses in case of an emergency or manufacturing hiccup, he said.
President Trump issued an Executive Order announcing the policy of the United States to ensure Americans have priority access to “free, safe, and effective COVID-19 vaccines.” Observers commented the EO is largely symbolic and does not create new rules regarding vaccine availability or distribution.
DOD announced its “deliberate and phased plan” to distribute and administer initial and subsequent allocations of the COVID-19 vaccine. The announcement includes a list of vaccination sites in the US and abroad. Those to receive vaccines at the DOD sites include uniformed service members (active and reserve), National Guard members, dependents, retirees, civilian employees, and select DOD contract personnel.
The Hill reports the White House coronavirus task force warned governors that vaccinations will not drive down the spread of COVID-19 until late spring, calling for states to emphasize the need for other mitigation measures.
The New York Times reports CDC is requiring states to submit personal information of people receiving the COVID vaccine — “including names, birth dates, ethnicities and addresses” – and this requirement is “raising alarms among state officials who fear that a federal vaccine registry could be misused.”
HHS is releasing weekly hospital COVID-19 capacity data at the facility level.
NIH rolled out an online tool to help organizations like schools and businesses choose a COVID-19 testing strategy that will work best for their specific needs.
FEMA announced a plan to establish a national strategy for the manufacture, allocation, and distribution of Personal Protective Equipment.
CDC announced the expansion of a program providing city- and neighborhood-level health estimates for a large portion of the nation’s population. “PLACES” shows the prevalence of chronic diseases and the health impacts on underserved communities and could be useful in addressing the impact of COVID moving forward.
FDA authorized the first diagnostic test for at home collection of patient samples to detect both COVID-19 and influenza A and B (flu).
HHS announced it will distribute $523 million in second round performance payments to over 9,000 nursing homes. These nursing homes are being rewarded for successfully reducing COVID-19 related infections and deaths between September and October.
The Department of Education announced the extension of the federal student loan administrative forbearance period, the pause in interest accrual, and the suspension of collections activity through January 31, 2021. Borrowers will not be expected to make payments through January of next year.
Transition. The Biden-Harris Transition announced the board members for their COVID-19 Advisory Board.
The Hill reports President-elect Joe Biden announced three goals for the first hundred days of his administration’s COVID-19 response: getting 100 million people vaccinated against the virus, requiring masks where he has authority to and getting kids back in school.
The National League of Cities is hosting a ‘Cities are Essential Campaign’ stakeholder call tomorrow, Friday, December 11 at 1:00 PM ET to hear the most up-to-date intel as congressional leadership considers a bipartisan stimulus proposal this week.
NACo released the results of a survey regarding impacts of the pandemic without additional federal relief. Ninety-five percent of business respondents believe their organization or industry will face significant challenges or will be forced out of business without additional federal relief.
The Economic Innovation Group (EIG) and a coalition of leading business and policy groups sent a letter to congressional leaders urging immediate action to provide crucial relief to small businesses by renewing the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
The National Governors Association Chairman Andrew Cuomo issued a statement urging congressional leaders to deliver “desperately needed relief for their constituents.”
Studies from AstraZeneca and Oxford University on the COVID-19 vaccine suggest that it is safe and about 70 percent effective on average. The results were reported in The Hill this week and confirmed that the two full doses given at least one month apart appeared to be 62 percent effective, while a half dose followed by a full dose was about 90 percent effective.
More information has been released on how COVID-19 vaccines will be administered and followed up on as necessary. “Everyone will be issued a written card that they can put in their wallet that will tell them what they had and when their next dose is due,” Kelly Moore, Associate Director of the Immunization Action Coalition, said Wednesday, according to CNN and The Hill. Kelly Moore also stated that clinics providing vaccinations will report what vaccine is administered to state immunization registries.
More than a third of Americans live in areas where hospitals are running critically short of intensive care beds, as reported by the New York Times. Hospitals serving more than 100 million Americans reported having fewer than 15 percent of intensive care beds still available as of last week.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation began working with India’s Serum Institute in efforts to manufacture and distribute AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate. The Foundation has also committed another $250 million toward the development and distribution of COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines. Melinda Gates said that part of the money will go toward procuring 200 million doses of vaccines and 120 million rapid response tests for non-first-world nations.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. shared policy recommendations for economic recovery with key members of President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team. The recommendations include more federal stimulus funding.
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