On Tuesday morning, a group of bipartisan legislators from the House and Senate unveiled a $908 billion coronavirus emergency relief proposal, which notably includes $160 billion for state, local, and tribal governments. The proposal includes $288 billion for small businesses; $180 billion in additional unemployment assistance; $45 billion for transportation (including airlines, airports, buses, transit, and Amtrak); $25 billion for rental housing assistance; $10 billion for broadband; and short-term federal protection from coronavirus-related lawsuits until states develop their own protections.
There are two other proposals floating around Capitol Hill – one from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and one from House Speaker Nancy (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) reportedly totaling around $1.3 trillion (the details of which have not yet been publicly released). The $500 billion proposal from Majority Leader McConnell, like the Senate Republicans’ $519 billion proposal announced earlier this fall, contains no additional funding for state and local governments. We can confidently assume the proposal from Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader Schumer includes state and local aid. However, on Wednesday, Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader Schumer announced they support the $908 billion bipartisan proposal as the baseline for a new round of negotiations. President-elect Joe Biden also endorsed the bipartisan measure, calling it a “down payment,” though he said more aid will probably be needed in the future.
Leader McConnell said Tuesday he would like to incorporate coronavirus relief as part of the FY 2021 Appropriations package Congress will need to pass by Friday, December 11. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) said a Continuing Resolution – likely through December 18 – will be necessary if a spending deal is not reached by December 9.
On Wednesday, the U.S. recorded its highest single-day coronavirus death toll to-date with 3,157 deaths. The record high came the same day new hospitalizations exceeded 100,000 for the first time and newly reported infections hit 200,000 for only the second time, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
The New York Times reports IBM found cyberattacks are underway “aimed at the companies and government organizations that will be distributing coronavirus vaccines around the world.” Targeting refrigeration – the “cold chain” – the Times notes “it is unclear whether the goal is to steal the technology for keeping the vaccines refrigerated in transit or to sabotage the movements.” DHS may issue a warning later today.
Capitol Hill. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testified before the Senate Banking and House Financial Services Committees earlier this week on the “Quarterly CARES Act Report to Congress” and “Oversight of the Treasury Department’s and Federal Reserve’s Pandemic Response,” respectively. Powell and Mnuchin both backed more fiscal stimulus to bridge the economy through the next few months of the pandemic as the promise of COVID-19 vaccines looms large. Powell gave no indication how the Fed may respond to the risk of fading economic momentum when it meets Dec. 15-16, though he reiterated that it would use all of its tools to help the economy recover. Mnuchin also contended that he was required by law to move $455 billion in unspent CARES Act emergency pandemic relief money into the Treasury’s General Fund – a move that would lock the funds away from President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration. Powell said that Congress had given the Treasury Secretary “sole” authority over the CARES Act funding for the Fed facilities. At the House Financial Services Committee hearing, Powell urged Congress to approve additional stimulus spending, focusing the relief on unemployed Americans, small businesses, and state and local governments.
On Monday, the bipartisan Congressional Oversight Commission published its seventh report. The Commission criticized the Defense and Treasury Departments over a $700 million National Security Loan to a troubled shipping company, YRC Worldwide, Inc., when the company was reportedly worth just $70 million and had been sued by the Pentagon for overpriced shipping costs.
Four Democratic Members of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs wrote a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Wilkie demanding that VA have a comprehensive plan in place to ensure the safe, equitable, and smooth distribution of a forthcoming COVID-19 vaccine.
Administration. CDC issued updated quarantine recommendations, saying quarantines can be shortened from 14 days to 10 days for those without symptoms and seven days for those with a negative COVID-19 test result. CDC officials said quarantines shorter than 14 days carry low infection risks and will hopefully bolster compliance.
CDC released updated travel guidance recommending that people not travel during the holidays. However, for those who do travel, CDC said travelers should get tested one to three days beforehand and three to five days after. They should also avoid non-essential activities for a week after the trip, or 10 days if travelers do not get tested.
CDC’s Independent Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 13-1 to recommend health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities be the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The recommendations for "phase 1a" will be sent to CDC Director Robert Redfield. If he approves, they will become official CDC guidance. States do not necessarily have to follow the recommendations, according to the CDC, which could potentially result in a patchwork of distribution plans across the country.
The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee released a new dataset of Coronavirus Relief Fund spending which includes information on how recipients spent funds down to the project and sub-recipient level.
HHS launched a pilot program with five states to use portable, cartridge-based COVID-19 molecular test kits that provide rapid results.
NIH awarded $45 million to expand the research network of the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) program aimed at COVID-19 testing of populations disproportionately affected by the disease.
The Hill reports an estimated 6.4 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine will be distributed to states and territories by mid-December, assuming it receives FDA authorization, Operation Warp Speed officials told reporters Tuesday. State officials were notified how many doses they should expect to receive in the initial distribution, and states will make their own decisions about who will be prioritized for the first doses. The Hill also reported Members of a CDC advisory committee said individuals receiving the COVID vaccine must be warned about side effects to help ensure they will return for the second does.
GAO released a report calling for “urgent actions…to better ensure an effective federal response” to the coronavirus. “Congress and the administration have taken a series of actions to protect the health and well-being of Americans,” the report states. “However, as the end of 2020 approaches, urgent actions are needed to help ensure an effective federal response on a range of public health and economic issues.” The report also outlined the widely known effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and notes that, while the economy has improved since July 2020, the pandemic will likely remain a significant obstacle to more robust economic activity.
The Federal Reserve Board on Monday announced an extension through March 31, 2021, for several of its lending facilities that were generally scheduled to expire on or around December 31. “By backstopping critical short-term funding markets, these facilities are supporting market functioning and enhancing the flow of credit to the economy.”
DOL reports unemployment insurance initial claims at 712,000, a decrease of 75,000 from the previous week. The 4-week moving average was 739,500, a decrease of 11,250 from the previous week's revised average. The insured unemployment rate was 3.8 percent for the week ending November 21, a decrease of 0.4 percentage point from last week.
Transition. The Biden-Harris Transition announced the board members for their COVID-19 Advisory Board.
Pharmacies have been preparing to administer COVID-19 vaccines to hundreds of millions of Americans, a feat that is unprecedented in scale and presents a new set of challenges. The Pfizer vaccine will require ultra-cold freezers, while vaccines from AstraZeneca and Moderna will require standard refrigeration. The special storage requirements of the vaccines give grocery stores an advantage in the rollout of the vaccines since many grocers already operate pharmacies and have much larger cold-storage areas.
Hundreds of national and regional trade associations sent a letter to Congress asking that they prevent businesses from paying taxes on forgiven Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. The groups argue that Congress intended for the loans to be tax-free, but the IRS interpretation declared that businesses cannot deduct expenses paid for with loans that are later forgiven.
Pfizer and Moderna are seeking emergency approvals for their COVID-19 vaccine candidates in Europe, according to the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The EMA began a review of Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine candidates on October 6 and is expected to conclude the review by December 29. EMA also started a separate review of Moderna’s vaccine on November 16 and will finish this review by January 12. Pfizer and BioNTech requested emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in November. The FDA is expected to hold separate meetings later this month to evaluate the vaccine candidates, and the CDC is voting this week on vaccine distribution plans in the US.
NACo sent a letter to Congressional leaders urging bipartisan solutions, including direct and flexible federal funding for counties of all sizes and extending the Coronavirus Relief Fund deadline. NACo highlighted that counties continue to face massive budgetary effects – as much as $202 billion through FY 2021.
NLC released a statement applauding the recently released bipartisan COVID-19 Emergency Relief proposal, which includes $160 billion in relief for state, local and tribal governments. NLC also published new survey data that quantifies the pandemic’s impact on America’s cities, towns and villages. The data shows cities have seen revenue decline by 21% since the beginning of the pandemic, while additional expenditures – including PPE, remote work technology, and overtime pay for essential employees – have increased 17% over the same period.
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