COVID-19 Federal Responses: Tuesday, May 26

May 27, 2020

Congress

Several prominent Republicans began discussing the party’s priorities for the next COVID-19 relief bill. White House Chief Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow said President Trump might support a “back to work bonus.” This bonus could replace or supplement the temporary increase to unemployment benefits. Versions of this proposal have been introduced by Republicans in the Senate. They believe maintaining the increased unemployment benefits could incentivize unemployed people to refrain from seeking employment.

  • Kudlow also said that President Trump is still interested in suspending the payroll tax.
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agrees that new relief legislation is needed. He reiterated that liability protections will be his top priority in that bill. He also expressed openness to targeted aid to state and local governments. Democrats included $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments in the House-passed HEROES Act. However, the Republican-controlled Senate will not consider that bill and does not support state and local aid funding at such a high level.
  • Leader McConnell also said he does not expect this bill to take shape until the end of June or into July.

Congress is still negotiating the details of a bipartisan bill to ease some of the requirements for converting Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans into forgivable grants. The changes could provide recipients with more time to rehire employees, more time to spend their funding, and allow recipients more ways to use their funding. Congress is still negotiating over how far to go with the new flexibilities, i.e., increasing how long to extend the time recipients have to spend the funding from eight weeks to either 16 or 24 weeks. Congress could vote on the bill as early as this week.

  • The House is expected to use its new proxy voting system for the first time this week. Proxy voting letters are publicly available on the House Clerk’s website. The Senate is not in session this week, but it could pass the PPP bill with unanimous consent.

Federal Agencies

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced another extension to the deadline to accept the Terms and Conditions for Provider Relief Fund payments. Providers now have 90 days from the date they received a Provider Relief Fund payment to accept the Terms and Conditions or return the funds. For providers that received funds on April 10, this means the new deadline for attestation is July 9. Furthermore, providers that do not accept the Terms and Conditions after 90 days of receipt, will be deemed to have accepted the Terms and Conditions

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s weekly COVID-19 report shows declining mortality rates for the week ending May 16. COVID-19 also accounted for a smaller share of total U.S. fatalities that week.

 HHS’ Office of Inspector General (OIG) published its plan for how it will conduct oversight of the federal COVID-19 relief funding.

The Administration banned travelers who have been in Brazil in the past 14 days from entering the U.S., due to Brazil’s widespread COVID-19 outbreak.

Reopening, Vaccines and Treatments

The HHS’ detailed Testing Blueprint provides guidance and outlines core elements for States as they develop their testing strategies.

The U.S. Government will partner with drug manufacturers and researchers across the country to launch a massive vaccine testing effort that will compress a process that typically takes ten years into five months. All participants in this initiative will collaborate to share information and support each other’s efforts to test their products. The initial stages of the trial will test vaccines on healthcare workers in high impact areas. The participants will also share their existing trial networks with each other.

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) Dr. Anthony Fauci expressed optimism about Moderna’s vaccine that yielded positive results in early clinical trials.

Gilead Sciences released more information about its remdesivir treatment for COVID-19 that showed promising results in reducing the virus recovery time. The new information shows the treatment was most effective for patients who were not on invasive, mechanical ventilators.

Congressional Hearings

On Wednesday, 5/27, the House Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing on the effects of COVID-19 on communities of color.

On Thursday, 5/28,  the House Education and Labor Committee’s Workforce Protections Subcommittee will hold a hearing on how to protect workers from COVID-19.

On Thursday, 5/28, the House Appropriations Military Construction-VA Subcommittee will hold a hearing on the VA’s response to COVID-19.

On Thursday, the House Small Business Committee will hold another virtual forum.