Congressional negotiators are nearing agreement on a deal that would add a roughly $900 billion COVID relief package to a $1.4 trillion FY 2021 appropriations omnibus package that needs to pass and be signed into law by Friday, December 18 to avoid a government shutdown. If the full package—pandemic aid and a spending deal—are not ready for both chambers to vote on by Friday, another Continuing Resolution will be needed to give lawmakers more time. Leadership in both parties have expressed support for another short-term extension of government funding if one is needed to prevent a shutdown at the end of the week.
The new COVID relief package is expected to largely resemble a $748 billion bipartisan bill unveiled Monday by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Susan Collins (R-ME), in conjunction with other House and Senate moderates, titled the “Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020.” That bill would provide billions in aid to small businesses and unemployed Americans, along with tens of billions for education, transportation, and other critical needs, but reportedly will not include additional funding for state and local governments. The same bipartisan group of lawmakers also introduced a $160 billion measure that ties together additional aid for state and local governments and liability protections for businesses— the two most controversial elements of the coronavirus negotiations—but its prospects for passage were considered unlikely due to its contentious contents. TFG produced a brief summarizing both measures.
In addition to including many of the provisions in the $748 billion proposal, the new package, which may be released today, will reportedly include a second round of direct payments (probably $600-700 for individuals making under $75,000/year) but will not include state and local funding or liability protections. One person familiar with the negotiations said the agreement would include “other avenues to deliver aid” to states, cities, territories, and tribes, but did not provide specifics.
Capitol Hill. A bipartisan group of 14 senators sent a letter earlier this week to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig urging the IRS to provide relief for taxpayers who had difficulties filing and paying on time because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), and six Democratic Subcommittee members, sent a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller seeking information on the Trump Administration’s coronavirus vaccine acquisition and distribution efforts. Also, 18 Democratic senators sent a letter to Dr. Moncef Slaoui, Chief Advisor of Operation Warp Speed, and General Gustave Perna, Chief Operating Officer of Operation Warp Speed, regarding vaccine orders placed by the Administration.
The Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection held a hearing titled “Examining the Impact of COVID-19 on the Live Event Entertainment Industry.” The hearing examined the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the live event entertainment industry and the challenges faced by artists and venues, as well as supporting industries such as lighting and transportation.
HHS and DoD announced the purchase an additional 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine candidate from Moderna. If authorized for emergency use by FDA, doses of the vaccine will ship immediately.
Dr. Anthony Fauci warned on MSNBC the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine does not mean people should drop normal health measures. “A vaccine right now is not a substitute for the normal, standard public health measures of wearing a mask, keeping your distance, avoiding congregate crowded sections, and particularly indoors. It's not a substitute, it complements it.”
FDA tweeted that some vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID19 vaccine contain more than the planned five doses per vial.
VA announced its VA COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan, The distribution plan includes a prioritization framework and will be updated over the next two weeks to reflect final recommendations and specifications from FDA and CDC.
FDA issued an EUA for the Ellume COVID-19 Home Test, the first over-the-counter fully at-home diagnostic test for COVID-19. FDA also issued a new EUA for the prescribed BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test.
CDC will award $140 million for COVID-19 vaccine preparedness and almost $87 million for tracking and testing.
HRSA announced it will begin distributing $24.5 billion to over 70,000 providers under the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) program covering 90% of each applicant’s lost revenues and net change in expenses caused by COVID-19 in the first half of 2020.
NIH announced an observational study to evaluate the short- and long-term health outcomes of COVID infection in children, including multisystem inflammatory syndrome.
The Census Bureau has an online Household Pulse Survey tool with graphics outlining at the state level different measures of impacts on households of the coronavirus, including expected income loss, food scarcity, housing insecurity, and difficulty paying for usual household expenses. The Hill notes that 84.5 million Americans face trouble paying bills according to data presented in the Census Bureau tool.
Vice President Mike Pence will receive a COVID-19 vaccine publicly Friday at the White House, along with second lady Karen Pence and Surgeon General Jerome Adams, to build public confidence in the vaccine. He will be the first Trump administration official to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
DOL reports unemployment insurance initial claims at 885,000, an increase of 23,000 from last week. The 4-week moving average was 812,500, an increase of 34,250 from last week. The seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 3.8 percent for the week ending December 5, down 0.1%.
Transition. President-elect Joe Biden is set to publicly receive the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as next week, according to his transition team.
On December 16, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC) announced attendance guidelines and logistic information for the 59th Inaugural Ceremonies, which will take place on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021. Traditionally, the JCCIC would distribute 200,000 tickets for the official ceremonies at the Capitol and provide ticket bundles to Members of the 117th Congress to distribute to constituents. For the 59th Inaugural Ceremonies, invitations to Members of the 117th Congress will be limited to themselves and one guest, and commemorative ticket bundles and program packets will be made available to Member offices for constituents following the ceremonies.
NACo, NLC, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors sent a joint letter to Congress urging that any bipartisan emergency relief package related to COVID-19 include adjusted FEMA cost-share upwards, enhanced flexibility for Coronavirus Relief Fund, and deadline extension for Coronavirus Relief Funds.
The New England Journal of Medicine published a study evaluating the combination of baricitinib, an anti-inflammatory drug and remdesivir, an antiviral, in their reduced time to recovery for people hospitalized with COVID-19. In the study the combination of therapeutics reduced median recovery time in hospitalized patients from eight days to seven days.
Nearly 8 million Americans have fallen into poverty since June according to a study released by the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame. The researchers found that the rise in poverty on households is due to exhausting stimulus checks and the July 31 expiration of enhanced unemployment benefits, both issues through the CARES Act passed in March. The stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment benefits helped reduce poverty from 10.9 percent before the pandemic to 9.3 percent through March, April, and May. But the expiration of this assistance has thrown more households into poverty even as the unemployment rate declined.
The New York Times reports hundreds of thousands of workers who received overpayments by way of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program are receiving notices to return the extra money. Many recipients, including gig workers and others not covered by traditional unemployment insurance programs, were unaware they were paid too much and are still unemployed, making repayment difficult or impossible.
The Kaiser Family Foundation found in a new poll that 71 percent of Americans are willing to take a free and safe COVID-19 vaccine, an increase of eight percent from three months ago. The increases are the most dramatic among Black adults: 62 percent of those polled in December said they would be willing to take a free and safe vaccine, compared to 50 percent three months ago.
The American Nurses Association, the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association urged all health professionals to take the coronavirus vaccine and share their experience with others as a way to convince as many people as possible to get vaccinated.
The Wall Street Journal published an interesting article noting states will have to pay billions of dollars in order to successfully provide COVID-19 vaccinations to all Americans who want to be inoculated by the June goal. The article discusses how the federal government is providing the vaccine, along with syringes, needs, face masks and shields, but states will have to hire medical workers, provide community outreach and education, set up vaccination clinics, and ensure storage capacity for the vaccine.
As reported on in TFG Transportation Notes, United Airlines started transporting coronavirus vaccines within the U.S. The distribution requires close monitoring of temperature since the vaccine must be stored at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. The FAA said planes carrying vaccines will get priority treatment.
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