Coronavirus Update
January 21, 2021
Information and resources on federal responses to the coronavirus crisis for state, local, and regional government.
Top News
Joseph R. Biden became the 46th President of the United States at noon on January 20. On his first day in office, President Biden signed a series of executive actions related to the coronavirus pandemic, including a national mask and social distancing mandate for people interfacing with the federal government, a pause on federal student loan payments and collections, and an order creating a COVID-19 Response Coordinator and Counselor to the President to provide a “unified and effective response to combat COVID-19,” among others. The President is expected to sign more executive actions today to “change the course of the COVID-19 crisis and safely re-open schools and businesses, including by taking action to mitigate spread through expanding testing, protecting workers, and establishing clear public health standards,” according to a memo by Ron Klain, the White House Chief of Staff. The President also plans to deliver remarks on the Administration’s coronavirus response today at 2:00 p.m. The White House released a calendar of “themed days” outlining action the Administration will take through the end of the month, many of which are related to coronavirus response.

On January 14, President Biden unveiled his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 “American Rescue Plan,” an emergency legislative package to “fund vaccinations, provide immediate, direct relief to families bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis, and support struggling communities.” The plan includes $350 billion in emergency funding for state, local, and territorial governments “to ensure that they are in a position to keep front line public workers on the job and paid, while also effectively distributing the vaccine, scaling testing, reopening schools, and maintaining other vital services.”

TFG participated in a call with members from the Biden White House Intergovernmental Affairs Office and the National Economic Council on January 14 who confirmed that state and local government funding could be used in a flexible manner. More details on America’s Rescue Plan can be found here.

President Biden indicated his intention to get Republican support for the measure, although the $1.9 trillion price tag is likely too high for many House and Senate Republicans. House Democrats may utilize the “budget reconciliation” process to pass the package, by late February or early March, which would allow the Senate to clear it with a simple majority of 51 votes (instead of the 60 votes usually needed to overcome a legislative filibuster). By utilizing the budget reconciliation process, the House will have to first draft and pass a budget resolution. The House Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce Committees will have jurisdiction over the COVID relief process, making Chairmen Richard Neal (D-MA) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ), respectively, key players regarding how the package will ultimately be crafted.

House Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Schumer issued a statement praising the proposal, stating, “House and Senate Democrats express gratitude toward and look forward to working with the President-elect on the rescue plan. […] We will get right to work to turn President-elect Biden’s vision into legislation that will pass both chambers and be signed into law.”

TFG also produced a Special Report providing an overview of what we should expect during the Biden Administration’s first 100 days and the interplay with the new 117th Congress

Capitol Hill. Some House Democrats are eyeing another possible alternative to budget reconciliation in the short-term: a bipartisan bill to dole out quick cash for vaccine distribution and $1,400 stimulus checks that would cost far less than the $1.9 trillion package that President Biden announced on January 14. That path, those Democrats argue, would address two critical areas of relief and deliver a much-needed win in the early weeks of Biden’s term and it could get a vote as soon as the week of January 25 if Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer are onboard.

Democrats officially assumed control of a 50-50 evenly divided Senate around 5pm on Wednesday, when Senators-elect Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Jon Ossoff (D-GA), and Senator-designate Alex Padilla (D-CA), were sworn into office by Vice President Kamala Harris (who will now serve as the tie-breaking vote through the end of 2022). As for managing the 50-50 split, Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are reportedly looking at a power-sharing agreement forged in early 2001 (when the Senate was last evenly divided) as a model as they begin negotiations over the daily running of the chamber and its committees. The two met on Tuesday afternoon to lay out plans for the evenly split Senate as well as the process for an impeachment trial for President Trump.

Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Peter DeFazio (D-OR), along with Chairs of multiple other House Committees, sent a letter on January 14 to President Joe Biden urging his Administration to waive all federal cost-share requirements for assistance provided by FEMA under the Stafford Act in order to reduce the growing financial burden on all states, tribes, territories, and D.C. amid the ongoing pandemic.

Please visit our TFG Coronavirus Legislative Trackers public health & safety, local government relief, and business assistance (no bills yet available) for detailed information on recently introduced bills.

Administration. President Joe Biden released his Administration’s National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness focusing on seven goals.  A fact sheet accompanying the Strategy is here. The redesigned White House website also includes a description of the Biden-Harris plan. The President also issued an Executive Order on the federal government’s COVID-19 response.

SBA announced it has approved approximately 60,000 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan applications submitted by nearly 3,000 lenders, for over $5 billion, between the program’s re-opening on Monday, Jan. 11 and Sunday, Jan. 17. This new round of PPP allows individuals who took a loan in the first round a second draw opportunity.

Treasury announced it will provide up to $9 billion in capital directly to depository institutions that are certified Community Development Financial Institutions or minority depository institutions to provide loans, grants, and forbearance for small businesses, minority-owned businesses, and consumers, especially in low-income and underserved communities that may be disproportionately impacted by the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

IRS launched IRS Free File, a suite of online tax preparation products. Free File is available for those who make up to $72,000 annually. IRS will begin accepting and processing 2020 tax returns on February 12. The IRS reminded taxpayers that COVID-19 related stimulus payments are not taxable and do not reduce a taxpayer’s refund.

Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, CDC’s new director, announced an extension until at least March 31 of the nationwide order temporarily halting residential evictions. USDA also announced an extension of eviction and foreclosure moratoriums on USDA Single Family Housing Direct and Guaranteed Loans through March 31.

CDC’s weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report noted the more highly transmissible variant of COVID-19 has been detected in 12 states, and modeling data indicate the variant has the potential to increase the US pandemic trajectory in the coming months.

One day before the presidential transition the Treasury Department released an FAQ as guidance regarding the requirements of the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program established by the Omnibus Appropriations.
Industry & Advocacy
NACo released an analysis of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, including highlights of the plan that would positively affect America’s counties by providing $350 billion in critical aid to states, local governments, and territorial governments. NLC released a positive statement on the plan.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors applauded President Biden’s COVID-19 Executive Orders. “President Joe Biden made clear that he intends to change the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, and America’s mayors are grateful for his leadership. We applaud his actions today to both establish a coordinated and unified national response to this pandemic and re-engage with the World Heath Organization to enable a collaborative international response.”

The National Governors Association (NGA) announced three Governor-lead task forces to coordinate and lead bipartisan state and territorial efforts to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and to lead economic recovery and community renewal efforts.
Webinars, Events and Resources
For more information please contact Mike Miller: mmiller@tfgnet.com (707) 224-8648