COVID-19 Federal Responses: Thursday, April 2, 2020

COVID-19 Federal Responses: Thursday, April 2, 2020

Beginning Friday, April 3, approved lenders can start processing applications for loans under the Paycheck Protection Program that was created by the CARES Act. Businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 500 employees can request loans for 2.5 times of their average monthly payroll expenses over the last twelve months (capped at $10 million). At least 75% of the loans must be used to pay employee salaries and benefits while the rest can go toward rent, mortgage or utility payments. The loans convert into grants (that do not need to be repaid) if certain conditions are met. Applicants do not need to provide any collateral for the loan. Loan repayments are also deferred for six months.

Both Congress and the Administration are discussing how to provide hazard pay increases to frontline healthcare workers.

Dr. Deborah Birx, one of the top coronavirus response advisors to President Trump and Vice President Pence, is asking colleges and universities to develop a special type of blood test to see if healthcare workers have developed an immunity to COVID-19. The enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) tests can detect antibodies that the body naturally produces. These tests are already used to detect antibodies for other infectious diseases such as HIV. An ELISA test for COVID-19 can help determine if certain healthcare workers are at increased risk for the virus. An ELISA test could also be used for non-healthcare workers, but it would be especially beneficial to frontline healthcare workers who are exposing themselves to the virus every day.

Duke University will begin a $50 million research project to test the efficacy of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to treat and prevent COVID-19. However, a French hospital that has been using the drug for this off-label purpose has found that it has limited effectiveness at treating the virus.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced the House of Representatives will form a special committee to perform oversight of the Administration’s distribution of the coronavirus relief funds from the CARES Act and other legislation. The Committee will be bipartisan, and it will have subpoena power. Speaker Pelosi did not announce who will be on the Committee except that it will be led by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC).

The Federal Bureau of Investigation seized hundreds of thousands of personal protective equipment (PPE) items from a Brooklyn, NY man who was hoarding the supplies and price gouging buyers. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will distribute the seized equipment to healthcare providers. The FBI seized the supplies using authorities granted under the Defense Production Act. HHS will pay the owner fair market value for the equipment. The man was allegedly charging healthcare providers more than 700 percent above market value.

Speaker Pelosi is adding to her list of priorities for the next round of legislation that the House introduces to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Speaker Pelosi would like to eliminate certain portions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to provide increased tax relief to some taxpayers. Specifically, she proposes eliminating the $10,000 cap on the state and local tax deduction. It is highly unlikely that Republicans will support that proposal.

President Trump issued an Executive Order directing the Administration to use authorities under the Defense Production Act to ensure that manufacturers of important medical supplies such as ventilators and PPE have the materials and supplies they need to manufacture their products.

The HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is providing increased enforcement flexibilities for protected health information (PHI) during the public health emergency. OCR will not take enforcement actions against entities that are acting in “good faith” when they disclose PHI.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will allow single family homeowners with FHA backed mortgages to defer or reduce mortgage payments for up to six months if they are facing financial difficulties due to the public health emergency.