COVID-19 Federal Responses: Wednesday, April 15, 2020

COVID-19 Federal Responses: Wednesday, April 15, 2020

President Donald Trump announced a list of Economic Recovery Industry Groups that will advise the government on reopening the U.S. economy. These bipartisan groups of American leaders (divided by industry) appear to replace the president’s planned economic relief task force of cabinet officials and advisors.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin restarted negotiations on “Phase IV” legislation. Congressional Republicans prefer a bill that is limited to replenishing funding for the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program. Democrats prefer a larger bill that includes more than just SBA funding.

This week, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) began distributing recovery rebate payments to Americans. The IRS announced a new website to help people track when they will receive their payment. Based on income thresholds, individuals may receive $1,200, while joint tax filers may receive $2,400; people will also receive $500 per child. Those amounts decrease for income that exceeds a certain threshold, eventually phasing out to nothing.

 Several reports indicate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) produced a plan for how to “reopen” the economy.

The Treasury Department reached a deal with major airline companies on the terms for $25 billion in financial assistance that the government will provide to the airlines. Under the agreement, a portion of the assistance will be loans that must be repaid, recipients cannot engage in mass layoffs or furloughs, and the government will get a small equity stake in the recipient companies. The funding was provided as part of the CARES Act. The airlines that participated in the agreement include United, Delta, American, and Southwest, among others.

A group of Democrats in the House and Senate introduced legislation to require HHS to collect and publish racial and other demographic data on COVID-19 patients.

President Trump announced a new program that will facilitate collaboration among hospitals to share ventilators with each other. According to the announcement, there are more than 60,000 unused ventilators in hospitals across the country. This voluntary, hospital-led effort will connect hospitals that need ventilators with those that have excess, unused equipment.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will increase what it pays labs for COVID-19 diagnostic testing services that use “high throughput” technologies. CMS will double what it pays for these tests from $51 to $100 effective April 14. High throughput technologies are advanced testing methods that allow for increased testing capacity and faster results. CMS says the higher reimbursement rate will more fairly compensate labs for the sophisticated equipment that requires specially trained technicians and more time-intensive processes to assure quality.

The U.S. Census Bureau published a report on the estimated U.S. retail and food service sales for March 2020. Total sales for both categories decreased by 8.7 percent in March compared to February.

The Federal Reserve published its most recent “beige book” on overall economic activity.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) posted its monthly update to its work plan. The update shows the OIG will take an increased focus on COVID-19 topics.