Coronavirus Update
September 14, 2020
Information and resources on federal responses to the coronavirus crisis for state, local, and regional government.
Top News
Last Thursday, the Senate failed to advance the “skinny” coronavirus relief package released by Senate Republicans (“Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools and Small Businesses Act,” a substitute amendment to S. 178). All but one Republican, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), voted in favor of the bill while all Democrats voted in opposition, leaving the Senate eight votes short of the 60 needed to advance the bill. Prospects for any additional stimulus legislation being enacted ahead of the November 3 election are dim considering the stalemate on Capitol Hill and the fact that there are only 11 legislative days remaining prior to the October recess.

Regarding the stalled negotiations and the two party’s disagreement over the appropriate size of the relief package, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said this morning that “Now is not the time to worry about shrinking the deficit or shrinking the Fed balance sheet.” Mnuchin, testifying before a House committee earlier this month, indicated that the Trump Administration was willing to go as high as $1.5 trillion for the next relief package. But that is still $700 billion less than the lowest offer from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): $2.2 trillion. In addition to deep divisions over the cost of the bill, the Administration and Congressional leadership have not agreed upon additional funding for state and local government, how to structure federal unemployment benefits, or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) demand for liability protections. 

Capitol Hill. While negotiations are stalled over the next COVID-19 relief package, Congress will need to pass a stopgap funding bill by September 30 in order to prevent an election year government shutdown. Lawmakers are expected to pass a continuing resolution (CR), which will provide funding at enacted fiscal year 2020 levels to keep the government open starting on October 1. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Speaker Pelosi have agreed to a “clean” CR, meaning it will not include items either side would view as political poison pills. Because of this informal deal, the funding bill is not expected to include any coronavirus relief. The main outstanding issue is whether the CR will last through mid-December 2020 or through early 2021, after the new Congress is sworn-in on January 3.

Please visit our TFG Coronavirus Legislative Trackers public health & safety, local government relief, and business assistance for detailed information on recently introduced bills. 

Administration. HHS Secretary Ben Carson announced the allocation of the remaining $1.988 billion in CARES Act funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. According to HHS’s press release, the allocation focuses funds towards places with households facing higher risk of eviction. This allocation is in addition to approximately $5 billion in CDBG funding already distributed nationwide; this round of funding may be used to provide temporary financial assistance to meet rental obligations for up to 6 months. A table with individual grant allocations is here.

DOL’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) announced revisions to regulations that implement the paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The revised rule clarifies workers’ rights and employers’ responsibilities regarding FFCRA paid leave. The rule was issued in light of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York’s August 3, 2020, decision invalidating portions of the relevant regulations. A good summary of key provisions is here.

CNBC and other news outlets are reporting on uncertainties regarding the availability of FEMA’s $300 unemployment benefits. FEMA’s webpage on lost wages supplemental payment assistance provides a good summary of the process that states must follow to apply for funding under the program, eligibility, and funding duration information. FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund monthly report to Congress outlines current funding availability and the outlook through 2020.
Industry & Advocacy
In a House Subcommittee hearing last week, Amtrak President and CEO William Flynn stated the company will need an additional $4.9 billion from Congress to avoid sweeping service cuts and job losses after October 1. Amtrak ridership and revenue are still down more than 80 percent to pre-pandemic levels, and at points ridership reached a 97 percent low.

NCTA, the Internet & Television Association, in partnership with the non-profit EducationSuperHighway, launched the K-12 Bridge to Broadband Initiative. The program will identify and solve connectivity gaps for K-12 school students in low-income families throughout the country so they can benefit from remote learning.  

U.S. Conference of Mayors CEO and Executive Director Tom Cochran released a statement urging the Senate to vote against any coronavirus relief proposal that does not include “direct financial assistance to the Nation’s local governments, which are on the frontlines of fighting this pandemic and promoting a safe economic recovery.” Cochran encouraged Congress and the Administration to continue bipartisan negotiations on another relief package.

CNN published an article titled, “Is the great COVID-19 airplane seat overhaul happening?” which discusses the theories and challenges with adjusting standard commercial airplane seating in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and in preparation for future pandemics. The article also sheds on light on other ways airlines may be able to prepare for future airborne viruses and diseases including changes in food preparation, service standards, and aircraft interiors. 
Webinars, Events and Resources
NACo: Fall Virtual CIO Forum Series: Pivoting During Crisis
September 16, 12:00 PM – 3:00 PM EDT

NLC US Mayors Roundtable: Our Fight to Economic Recovery
September 17, 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM EDT

US Conference of Mayors: Helping Restaurants Rebound
September 17, 3:00 PM EDT

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For more information please contact Mike Miller: (707) 224-8648