The Senate is set to hold a procedural vote today to advance a “skinny” coronavirus relief package, titled the “Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools and Small Businesses Act” (substitute amendment to S. 178), released by Senate Republicans earlier this week. The bill, which is estimated to cost between $500 and $700 billion, is a more tailored version of the $1 billion Republican proposal released several weeks ago (the HEALS Act).
Senate Democrats are expected to vote against the bill, effectively blocking the bill from reaching the floor. Next steps for further negotiations after today remain unclear. While Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin indicated recently that a significant new aid package is still needed to help the economy recover from the coronavirus, it is unclear whether a compromise between Congressional leaders and the Trump Administration can be reached prior to early October, when Congress will begin its recess ahead of the November 3 election.
The new Senate GOP “skinny” proposal includes:
- No additional state and local aid
- No Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) flexibility—current CRF funds for states and localities still cannot be used for revenue replacement
- An extension of the deadline for states and localities to spend CRF funds, from December 30, 2020 to September 30, 2021
- Employer liability provisions that extend to local government agencies
- A restoration and reduction to $300 per week, from $600 per week, of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program established under the CARES Act, through December 27, 2020
- An authorization for a second round of loans under the Paycheck Protection Program—to qualify, eligible entities must show at least a 35 percent reduction in gross revenue in the first or second quarter of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019
- Forgiveness of the $10 billion loan made to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) in the CARES Act (i.e., creating a $10 billion grant for the USPS)
The appropriations title of the bill would provide:
- $105 billion for the Education Stabilization Fund created by the CARES Act
- $31 billion for vaccine, therapeutic, and diagnostic development
- $16 billion for testing, contact tracing, and surveillance
- $20 billion in farm assistance
- $5 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants
- $500 million in fishery disaster aid
Capitol Hill. On Wednesday, the House Oversight Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis held a hearing on “Ensuring a Free, Fair, and Safe Election During the Coronavirus Pandemic.” The hearing examined what election officials must do to follow election guidance from the CDC and ensure a free, fair, and safe general election during the coronavirus pandemic. The hearing followed the release of a new staff report showing serious problems that could disenfranchise voters in Texas, Georgia, Florida, and Wisconsin.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee also held a hearing on “Vaccines: Saving Lives, Ensuring Confidence, and Protecting Public Health,” with National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins and Surgeon General of the United States, Jerome Adams. Director Collins said studying the safety and effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccine candidates is NIH’s “top priority” as Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca race to complete late-stage testing and submit approval applications to the FDA by the end of the year. Collins also said U.S. health officials will not skip or abbreviate any safety assessments in the development of a coronavirus vaccine and that coronavirus vaccine development and distribution would be determined based on science and not politics.
The Congressional Budget Office reports the federal budget deficit in August 2020 was $198 billion – $3 billion less than the deficit in August of last year. However, that comparison is distorted by shifts in the timing of certain payments. The cumulative federal budget deficit for the first 11 months of fiscal year 2020 was $3.0 trillion, or $1.9 trillion more than the deficit recorded for the same period last year.
Administration. The Trump Administration recently announced plans to end coronavirus screenings of international airline passengers arriving in the US. Beginning in January the US has conducted enhanced screenings of passengers arriving from Wuhan, China, and then additional airports began checking passengers from countries deemed high-risk for the virus. According to CNN, the rationale for ending the enhanced airport screening is that “of the 675,000 passengers screened at 15 airports, fewer than 15 had been identified as having COVID-19.”
HHS released a request for information (RFI) regarding the ability of Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA)-certified/accredited commercial, academic, medical center, and public health laboratories to feasibly provide additional COVID-19 testing capability if supplementary testing instruments were made available. To be considered, comments must be received electronically no later than 5:00 p.m. EDT on September 21.
HUD announced additional requirements and flexibilities for the $3.96 billion provided to states and local government for the Emergency Solutions Grants Program under the CARES Act (ESG-CV). HUD highlighted new eligible activities to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, including new types of temporary emergency shelters and landlord incentives; discretion beyond what is permitted in the ESG regulations including paying for hotel costs for individuals currently being assisted by ESG or CoC programs as necessary to quarantine or isolate; and extending the obligation and expenditure deadlines. The HUD Notice is here.
DOL reports initial unemployment claims at 884,000, unchanged from the previous week's revised level. The 4-week moving average was 970,750, a decrease of 21,750 from the previous week's revised average. The highest rates in the week ending August 22 were in Hawaii (20.3), Puerto Rico (16.7), Nevada (16.0), New York (14.9), California (14.8), Connecticut (14.7), Louisiana (13.2), the Virgin Islands (12.6), Georgia (12.2), and District of Columbia (11.5). The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending August 29 were in California (+22,647), Texas (+4,521), and Louisiana (+3,662), with the largest decreases in Florida (-6,057), and Georgia (-5,485).
In response to the Senate Republicans’ most recent coronavirus relief bill, NACo Executive Director Matthew Chase released a statement noting NACo’s disappointment that the bill “leaves out any new fiscal relief or flexibility for county governments.” In his statement, Chase calls on the Trump Administration and Congress “to resume negotiations on a bipartisan relief package that provides direct, flexible aid to counties of all sizes.”
NACo also released “Key Takeaways” of the “Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools and Small Businesses Act,” providing detailed information on what’s in the bill for counties, state and local aid, and the US Postal Service.
NLC, along with seven other organizations representing state and local governments, sent a letter to the Treasury Department’s Deputy Inspector General calling for the removal of the recently updated reporting requirements for the Coronavirus Relief Fund. The letter notes how the updated requirements would increase “regulatory burdens on state and local governments” and how the change “makes it more likely that the OIG [Office of the Inspector General] will claw back expended funds…”
Major travel industry groups, including the U.S. Travel Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, called on the Trump Administration to establish a global framework for testing protocols in order to support the return of international travel. The groups noted the US is set to lose $155 billion from the economy due to the collapse of international travel during the coronavirus pandemic.
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