Hearings/Markups

House Committee on Appropriations: “Department of Veterans Affairs – Response to COVID-19”
Tuesday, May 19: The House Committee on Appropriations, subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies held a hearing on the response to COVID-19 by the Department of Veterans Affairs, with a witness panel of officials from the VA. Find more details on the hearing here.

Senate Committee on Aging: “Caring for Seniors Amid the COVID-19 Crisis”
Thursday, May 21: The Senate Committee on Aging held a hearing on caring for senior citizens during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Find more details on the hearing here.

House

Carter Introduces Bill for 30 Percent Tax Credit to U.S.-Manufactured Drugs, Medical Equipment
On May 22, Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA) introduced a bill to give a 30 percent tax credit to drug manufacturers and makers of medical gear and diagnostics that are manufactured in the United States. The Manufacturing API, Drugs, and Excipients (MADE) in America Act is sponsored by Reps. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), David McKinley (R-WV), Eric Crawford (R-AR) and Darren Soto (D-FL).

Energy and Commerce Committee Probes Administration’s COVID-19 Response
The House Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee announced they will spend the next few months investigating the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The investigation will focus on COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, the supply chain for personal protective gear and vaccine development. The goal is to outline ways to improve the response moving forward.

Senate

Senate Democrats Release Plan to Expand Health Care Coverage & Affordability During COVID-19
On May 22, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Tina Smith (D-MN), with Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), released a plan to expand health care coverage and affordability during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a white paper, the senators outline a series of common sense legislative priorities that the Senate should take up immediately, including expanding premium support through subsidies and tax credits, incentivizing Medicaid expansion in hold-out states and having a special open enrollment period. Their proposal also calls for all COVID-19 treatment costs to be covered, including for the uninsured. Find the plan here.

Read more in McGuireWoods Consulting’s Washington Healthcare Update.

The Latest

Last Friday, the House passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES) Act, House Democratic leadership’s $3 trillion proposal for Phase 4 coronavirus response legislation. The bill, which passed largely along party lines, focuses on funding for states and local governments, including first responders, extends family and medical leave programs, provides eviction and foreclosure protection, and extends work visas for certain immigrants, among other provisions. The House also adopted a resolution to authorize remote voting by proxy and provide for official remote committee proceedings. Yesterday, Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) invoked the authorities included in that resolution to enable remote voting and committee proceedings beginning next week.

The Senate has largely resumed legislative business, including pending nominations. The Senate Banking Committee held a hearing this week on “The Quarterly CARES Act Report to Congress” with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin (testimony) and Federal Reserve Chairman Powell (testimony). Elsewhere, the Congressional Oversight Commission released its first report, which focuses on the $500 billion Congress authorized in the CARES Act for the Treasury Department to make loans, loan guarantees, and other investments to provide liquidity to businesses, states, and municipalities.

Later today, the Senate may vote on legislation to extend the current eight-week period businesses have to use Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to pay employees and other expenses for the loan to be forgiven, possibly to 16 weeks. All senators would have to agree to pass the measure by unanimous consent.

Last night, President Trump formally announced that Brooke Rollins will serve as Assistant to the President and Acting Director of the Domestic Policy Council, succeeding Joe Grogan. Derek Lyons will serve as Assistant and Counselor to the President.

Elsewhere, the President and federal agencies continue to take other steps to respond to the outbreak, including, but not limited to:

  • President Trump signed a Regulatory Relief to Support Economic Recovery Executive Order directing federal agencies to identify any regulations that can be temporarily waived to promote job creation and growth and to determine any regulations currently suspended during the national emergency that should be permanently rescinded.
  • The President announced that former GlaxoSmithKline vaccines chief Moncef Slaoui will serve as Chief Scientist for Operation Warp Speed, the government’s effort to develop and deliver a coronavirus vaccine.
  • Vice President Pence announced five new members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force: Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia, National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins, Health Resources and Services Administration (HSRA) Administrator Thomas Engels, and Dr. Peter Marks, Director of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.
  • The Treasury Department published an interim final rule for the PPP on treatment of entities with foreign affiliates, an interim final rule on the second extension of limited safe harbor with respect to certification concerning need for PPP loan and lender reporting, and updated program FAQs. The Small Business Administration (SBA) updated its report on PPP approvals through May 16 and released the Loan Forgiveness Application.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it will provide up to $1.2 billion to support a collaboration with AstraZeneca to make available at least 300 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine with the first doses delivered as early as October 2020.
  • HHS announced that it provided $225 million in Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act funding to Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) for COVID-19 testing.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published an overview of its activities and initiatives supporting the COVID-19 response and the President’s plan for Opening Up America Again.
  • The Department of Labor (DOL) announced revised policies for enforcing Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements with respect to coronavirus as state economies reopen.
  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) updated guidance on identifying essential critical infrastructure workers during the COVID-19 response.

A complete overview of both congressional and Administrative response efforts is available here and updated daily.

What’s Next

While the Republican-controlled Senate will not take up the HEROES Act, it serves as Democrats’ opening proposal for what will likely be lengthy negotiations around a Phase 4 bill. Senate Republicans and the White House have made clear that they prefer to give existing relief programs more time to take effect before moving ahead with another round of legislation. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said today, however, that “there is a strong likelihood we will need another bill.”

The House is expected to vote next week on the bipartisan Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act. The bill would reform the PPP to allow forgiveness for expenses beyond the eight week covered period, eliminate restrictions limiting non-payroll expenses to 25% of loan proceeds and that limit loan terms to two years, ensure full access to payroll deferment for businesses that take PPP loans, and extend the rehiring deadline to offset the effect of enhanced unemployment insurance. The House will also vote on the Small Business Transparency and Reporting for the Underbanked and Taxpayers at Home (TRUTH) Act to direct the SBA to explain and justify all disbursements of coronavirus relief funds. The House Ways and Means Committee will also hold a virtual hearing on May 27 on “The Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19 on Communities of Color.”

Relevant Resources

Read more in McGuireWoods Consulting’s Emerging Technologies Washington Update.

Hearings/Markups

Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP): “COVID-19: Safely Getting Back to Work and Back to School”
Thursday, May 12: The Senate HELP committee held a full committee hearing on the country’s transition back to leaving homes for work and school, with a panel that includes Dr. Anthony Fauci from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. Robert Redfield from the CDC, Dr. Brett Giroir from HHS and Dr. Stephen Hahn from FDA. Find more details on the hearing here.

Why this is important: The subject of the hearing was reopening the economy, but some members of the committee asked about Remdesivir, a drug by Gilead that has shown some promise in treating COVID-19 patients. Democratic members expressed concern on the affordability of the drug, despite the CARES Act’s requiring public and private insurers to cover at no cost vaccines recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The members fear higher premiums for Americans.

House Committee on Energy and Commerce: “Protecting Scientific Integrity in the COVID-19 Response”
Thursday, May 14: The Subcommittee on Health of the Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing on protecting scientific transparency and support during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Find more details on the hearing here.

Why this is important: Dr. Rick Bright, an immunologist for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), issued a warning in testimony before the committee, and alleged in a whistleblower complaint that he was removed from his position for prioritizing science in the government’s coronavirus response, with increased concern for the spread of the virus this coming fall.

House

House Passes HEROES Act
On May 15, the House passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES Act), 208-199. The passed legislation omits the Paycheck Guarantee Act, which would have guaranteed 100 percent coverage of workers’ wages up to $90,000 a year, as well omitting $2,000 recurring stimulus checks. The $3 trillion bill includes assistance to state and local governments, hazard pay for frontline health care workers, forgiveness of student debt and bolstering Medicaid and Medicare. The bill would also assist farmers, protect renters and homeowners from evictions and foreclosures, and extend family and medical leave provisions previously approved by Congress. The legislation would also provide relief for essential workers, such as aviation, rail and Amtrak workers, as well as extend work visas for immigrants. It is not expected to pass in the Senate, and the Trump administration has announced that the bill will be vetoed by President Trump if it were to reach his desk.

Ways & Means Chair Asks CMS to Slow Down Allowing Elective Care
On May 8, House Ways & Means Committee Chair Richard Neal (D-MA) sent a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) asking to slow down allowing hospitals and health systems to reopen for nonemergency services until facilities meet certain requirements. Neal’s letter is a response to CMS-issued recommendations to facilities on reopening for elective surgeries and non-COVID-19 care in mid-April.

Senate

Senate Republicans Release COVID-19 Data Privacy Bill
On May 14, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) released legislation that will give consumers control over how their personal health, device, geolocation and proximity data can be collected. The COVID-19 Consumer Data Protection Act sets up regulation, under the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), specifying that companies will need to get “affirmative express consent” from individuals in order to collect their data for tracking the spread of COVID-19. The bill is cosponsored by Sens. John Thune (R-SD), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). Find the bill here.

Read more in McGuireWoods Consulting’s Washington Healthcare Update.

The Latest

On Tuesday, House Democratic leadership introduced the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES) Act, their proposal for Phase 4 coronavirus response legislation. The $3 trillion bill focuses on funding for states and local governments, including first responders, extends family and medical leave programs, provides eviction and foreclosure protection, and extends work visas for certain immigrants, among other provisions. The House will return to Washington tomorrow to vote on the bill, along with a resolution to authorize remote voting by proxy and provide for official remote committee proceedings. The HEROES Act will not pass the Republican-controlled Senate, but is Democrats’ opening proposal for what will likely be lengthy negotiations around a Phase 4 bill. Senate Republicans and the White House have made clear that they prefer to give existing relief programs more time to take effect before moving ahead with another round of legislation.

The Senate was in session this week and committees held a series of hearings related to COVID-19. On Tuesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee held a hearing on “Safely Getting Back to Work and School.” Chairman Alexander (R-TN) chaired the hearing remotely after one of his staffers tested positive for COVID-19; the witnesses, including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci also testified remotely after potential exposure at the White House. The Senate Judiciary Committee also held a hearing on liability issues related to the public health emergency. On Wednesday, a Senate Commerce Committee hearing focused on the state of broadband amid the pandemic. This morning, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on “Protecting Scientific Integrity in COVID-19 Response.”

On Monday, President Trump announced that the Administration will distribute $11 billion, as well as 12 million swabs, to states, territories, and tribes for testing. The Treasury Department, Small Business Administration (SBA), and Federal Reserve also continue to implement CARES Act relief programs. Last night, the Treasury published a new Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) interim final rule on loan increases. This week, the Treasury also updated PPP FAQs on, published Coronavirus Relief Fund payments to states and eligible units of local government, and announced it has approved over $25 billion in Payroll Support Program assistance to 352 applicants in the aviation industry. SBA continues to update data on PPP Round 2 loans. The Federal Reserve updated the term sheet and FAQs for the Municipal Liquidity Facility (MLF) to provide pricing and other information and updated the term sheet and FAQs for the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF), which will initially make up to $100 billion of loans available to help ensure consumers and businesses can access credit at affordable terms.

Elsewhere, the President and federal agencies continue to take other steps to respond to the outbreak, including, but not limited to:

  • The Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a second Enforcement Notice regarding airline ticket refunds during the COVID-19 emergency and issued a Notice of Adjustments to Service Obligations, an opportunity for incremental adjustments to service obligations under a previous Order that allows covered carriers to reduce service amid the pandemic.
  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a temporary final rule to change certain H-2B requirements to help support the US food supply chain, maintain essential infrastructure operations, and reduce the impact from the COVID-19 public health emergency.
  • The Department of Labor (DOL) issued guidance announcing the availability of $100 million in CARES Act funding for short-time compensation grant funds for states and issued guidance and reminders to states to ensure the integrity of unemployment insurance programs, including the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued guidance for companies developing drugs and biological products for COVID-19 treatment and prevention and guidance on meeting requests for COVID-19 related drugs and biological products.
  • The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced a new pilot program will prioritize certain patent applications for products or processes that are subject to an applicable FDA approval for COVID-19 use.
  • The Department of Defense (DOD) announced it is using 3D printers to manufacture low-cost emergency ventilators and announced a $138 million contract to expand capability for domestically manufactured, medical-grade injections devices suitable for combating COVID-19 when a proven vaccine becomes available.

A complete overview of both congressional and Administrative response efforts is available here and updated daily.

What’s Next

The House will pass the HEROES Act on Friday, largely, if not entirely, along party lines. It remains to be seen when bicameral negotiations on a Phase 4 bill will begin. Next week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell will testify on Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee during a hearing on “The Quarterly CARES Act Report to Congress.” The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs will also hold a hearing on the Department’s response to COVID-19.

Relevant Resources

Read more in McGuireWoods Consulting’s Emerging Technologies Washington Update.

This week in Washington: Senate hearing on safely getting back to work and school, House hearing on protecting scientific integrity in the COVID-19 response.

House

Schakowsky Introduces Bill to Oversight, Infection Control in Nursing Homes

On May 7, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced a bill, with a Senate companion bill to be introduced by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), that seeks to improve care quality, worker safety, infection control and resident rights in nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic. The Quality Care for Nursing Home Residents and Workers During COVID-19 Act (H.R. 6698) requires each facility to have a full-time infection preventionist with a certain level of experience, blocking a 2019 proposal by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to roll back infection preventionist requirements. Find the full bill here.

Senate

Wyden, Casey Want CMS to Release Nursing Home COVID-19 Data

On May 6, Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senate Aging Committee ranking member Bob Casey (D-PA) released a statement asking the Trump administration, for a second time, to commit to a timeline and process for releasing information on COVID-19 infections and deaths in nursing homes. The senators added in their statement that no public data has been released from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) thus far, and the information should be readily available by now, and updated in real time. Find the statement here.

Read more in McGuireWoods Consulting’s Washington Healthcare Update.

The Latest

The Senate returned to Washington this week for legislative business and several committees convened hearings on the COVID-19 pandemic. On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee heard from aviation stakeholders and a public health expert during a hearing on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the aviation industry and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a virtual roundtable on how new information on COVID-19 should drive policy. This morning, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee held a hearing on new tests for COVID-19 during which National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins and Dr. Gary Disbrow, Acting Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research And Development Authority, testified. Even though the House remains in recess, members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education also held a hearing Wednesday on the COVID-19 response.

Timing for the next phase of coronavirus relief legislation remains in flux as House leaders have not yet confirmed when the chamber will reconvene in Washington, though Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) has indicated a desire to return next week. In the meantime, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle continue to monitor implementation of the Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), with some suggesting changes in eligibility and transparency requirements should be included in Phase 4 legislation. Senate Small Business Committee Ranking Member Cardin (D-MD) also predicted this week that the program will require additional funding.

The Treasury Department updated its PPP FAQs several times this week and published a new interim final rule on nondiscrimination and additional eligibility criteria. SBA also updated PPP Round 2 data on a daily basis. The Treasury also updated FAQs on the Coronavirus Relief Fund for state and local governments and with the Interior Department, announced a path to begin making $4.8 billion in Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars available to Native American tribes. Elsewhere, the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and Comptroller of the Currency announced an interim final rule to modify the agencies’ Liquidity Coverage Ration rule to support banking organizations’ participation in the Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility and the Paycheck Protection Program Liquidity Facility.

Elsewhere, the President and federal agencies continue to take other steps to respond to the outbreak, including, but not limited to:

  • The Department of Labor (DOL) released its unemployment insurance weekly claims report for the week ending May 2 showing the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 3,169,000, a decrease of 677,000 from the previous week’s revised level. DOL also announced that Dislocated Worker Grant funding made available to states and territories to employ workers temporarily to respond to the public health emergency can be used for contact tracing and announced additional guidance regarding 100% federal reimbursement of certain state Short-Term Compensation payments pursuant to the CARES Act.
  • The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) updated guidance to provide information on returning Economic Impact Payments and clarified that someone who has died does not qualify and therefore any such payment should be returned.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published guidance for medical device manufacturers for reporting permanent discontinuance of or manufacturing interruptions for critical devices during the pandemic.
  • The Department of Defense (DOD) announced it is using thermal imaging to detect COVID-19 and screen for elevated body temperatures among personnel entering military facilities. DOD also announced a $126 million contract with 3M for increased production of 26 million N95 medical-grade masks per month beginning in October.
  • A Federal Trade Commission (FTC) summary of COVID-19 complaints shows the agency has received nearly 35,000 reports totaling $23.3 million in total fraud loss.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency published a fact sheet on federal support to expand national testing capabilities.

A complete overview of both congressional and Administrative response efforts is available here and updated daily.

What’s Next

Tomorrow, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a teleconference forum on COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and surveillance. The Senate will be in session next week and a number of committees will hold hearings on various aspects of the COVID-19 response. On Tuesday, the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on “Safely Getting Back to Work and Back to School” and the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing to examine liability during the pandemic. The Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will convene a hearing on the state of broadband during the pandemic.

Relevant Resources

Read more in McGuireWoods Consulting’s Emerging Technologies Washington Update.

Congress

Pallone Lays Out Legislative Priorities for National COVID-19 Response
On May 1, House Energy & Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) released a memo calling for expanded testing, centralized supply chain coordination and communication, improved public health data collection, free testing and treatment coverage for everyone, including uninsured individuals, and fair reimbursement for health care providers who provide COVID-19-related services. Find more information here.

Bill Introduced to Allow Mail-Order Medicaid Prescriptions during COVID-19 Pandemic
On April 20, Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Lisa Blunt-Rochester (D-DE) introduced H.R. 6557, the MAIL Act, a bill to encourage states to allow Medicaid mail-order prescriptions and let beneficiaries obtain a 90-day supply of drugs without restriction during the public health emergency. The bill would increase by 1 percent federal payments for mail-order Medicaid claims during the COVID-19 outbreak. On March 20, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) sent a notice asking Medicare Part D plans to let seniors obtain prescriptions without in-person contact. Find the bill here.

Administration

CMS Set to Announce Insulin Affordability Policy
On April 30, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma said that CMS would soon announce a plan to lower the cost of insulin for seniors. Friday, May 1 was the deadline for insurers to apply to participate in a Part D demonstration to cap beneficiaries’ monthly insulin costs at $35 and insulin manufacturers already said they would participate.

CMS: New Independent Commission to Address Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes
On April 30, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a new independent commission that will conduct a comprehensive assessment of the nursing home response to the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The commission will provide independent recommendations to the contractor to review and report to CMS to help inform immediate and future responses to COVID-19 in nursing homes. Find more detail here.

Final Non-Discrimination Rule under Review at OMB
As of April 24, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is reviewing the final version of changes to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) non-discrimination provision proposed by the Trump administration. The proposal would roll back protections for transgender individuals, repeal several language requirements and narrow the scope of the law.

Read more in McGuireWoods Consulting’s Washington Healthcare Update.

The Latest

Last week, Congress passed, and the President signed into law, interim relief legislation, the approximately $484 billion Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act. The bill includes an additional approximately $322 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), $60 billion for Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program grants and loans, $75 billion for hospitals, and $25 billion for testing.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) began accepting PPP loan applications again on Monday and White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the agency processed 450,000 loans totaling $48.5 billion in the first 24 hours. In the meantime, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said that all PPP loans over $2 million will be audited before they are forgiven and that regulatory guidance implementing this procedure will be forthcoming. SBA also published new interim final rules for the PPP on requirements for promissory notes, authorizations, affiliation, and eligibilityadditional criterion for seasonal employersdisbursements, and corporate groups and non-bank and non-insured depository institution lenders and updated PPP FAQs. Treasury published guidance on how to calculate maximum loan amounts by business type and SBA published a Procedural Notice providing guidance to approved lenders regarding the sale of participating interest in PPP loans.

On Monday, the President announced a strategy to expand COVID-19 testing. A Testing Blueprint describes the roles and responsibilities of the federal government, state, local, and tribal governments, and private sector and professional associations. A Testing Overview includes a three-stage process to expand testing.

Elsewhere, the President and federal agencies continue to take other steps to respond to the outbreak, including, but not limited to:

  • President Trump signed an Executive Order invoking the Defense Production Act to designate meat and poultry processing plants critical infrastructure and compel them to remain open. The White House also published a fact sheet on the Order.
  • The Federal Reserve announced an expansion of the scope and duration of the Municipal Liquidity Facility, which will offer up to $500 billion in lending to states and municipalities to help manage cash flow stresses caused by COVID-19. The Fed also announced it is expanding the scope and eligibility for the Main Street Lending Program by creating a third loan option with increased risk sharing by lenders for borrowers with greater leverage; lowering the minimum loan size for certain loans to $500,000; and expanding the pool of businesses eligible to borrow.
  • The Treasury Department announced it has made $12.4 billion in initial payments to 93 air carriers and that it has determined that cargo air carriers that receive $50 million or less of payroll support and contractors that receive $37.5 million or less of payroll support will not be required to provide financial instruments as appropriate compensation for the financial assistance. The Department also published the application form for loans to businesses critical to maintaining national security, which may be submitted online beginning April 27 and are due by May 1.
  • The US Postal Service said it revised its Hazardous, Restricted, and Perishable Mail regulations to support rapid deployment of COVID-19 diagnostic tests via mail during the public health emergency.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched a COVID-19 Uninsured Program Portal to allow health care providers who have conducted COVID-19 testing or provided treatment for uninsured individuals to submit claims for reimbursement.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that it is reevaluating the amounts that will be paid under its Accelerated Payment Program and suspending its Advance Payment Program to Part B suppliers effective immediately in light of recent emergency relief to providers and suppliers.
  • The Attorney General issued a memo on Balancing Public Safety with the Preservation of Civil Rights finding that the Department of Justice (DOJ) may have an obligation to address in federal court state or local ordinances that result in “an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections.”

A complete overview of both congressional and Administrative response efforts is available here and updated daily.

What’s Next

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) confirmed this week that the Senate will return to Washington on May 4 as scheduled. House Democratic leadership initially made a similar statement, but on Tuesday announced that after consultation with Members and the Attending Physician, the House will extend its recess until further notice. The decision fuels continued uncertainty around the timing for Phase 4 coronavirus response legislation. Nonetheless, lawmakers continue to discuss priorities for upcoming legislation.

McConnell said this week that he will prioritize liability protections for frontline workers and reopening businesses and reiterated opposition to including infrastructure investment in COVID-19 stimulus legislation. This potentially puts him at odds with President Trump, who said again on Tuesday that he wants to pursue a major infrastructure package, but acknowledged many Republicans prefer a separate effort not tied to coronavirus relief. House and Senate Democrats continue to prioritize more funds for state and local governments and frontline workers.

Relevant Resources

Read more in McGuireWoods Consulting’s Emerging Technologies Washington Update.

House

House, Senate Pass $484 Billion COVID-19 Package, President Trump Signs
Last week, the House passed a COVID-19 spending package, 388-5, which passed the Senate unanimously. On April 24, President Trump signed the spending package that will provide an immediate $321 billion infusion for the Paycheck Protection Program, the small business rescue fund that ran out of money last week. The package also provides another $60 billion in economic disaster loans for small businesses, $75 billion in emergency relief for hospitals and $25 billion for increased coronavirus testing, with $11 billion of that going to states. The spending package is the fourth in a series of coronavirus relief bills passed in Congress in less than two months, totaling $2.7 trillion in federal funds to fight the pandemic.

Senate

Whitehouse, Cassidy Ask CMS to Offer ACOs More Relief Amid Pandemic
On April 23, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) requested that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) extend relief for accountable care organizations (ACOs) due to the COVID-19 pandemic and waive the providers’ losses they might otherwise have to repay. Sen. Cassidy’s office said he is not considering legislation at this point. CMS responded that it is aware of the concerns and will keep looking closely to see where it can take more steps in the coming weeks.

Administration

Trump Administration Supports Continuing Public Charge Rule during COVID-19 Pandemic
On April 20, in a filed brief to the Supreme Court, the Trump administration announced that the public charge rule should remain in effect during the coronavirus pandemic. The filing was a response to three states’ requesting the Supreme Court halt the public charge rule during the pandemic, claiming it is keeping immigrants from being tested or treated for the virus. The Trump administration’s brief clarifies that the exemption for COVID-19-related services applies only if the recipient dis-enrolls from Medicaid after receiving the services. Find the Trump administration’s response here.

Read more on healthcare policy in McGuireWoods Consulting’s Washington Healthcare Update.

The Latest

On Tuesday, congressional leadership announced an agreement on interim relief legislation, the approximately $484 billion Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act. The bill includes an additional approximately $322 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, $60 billion for Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program grants and loans, $75 billion for hospitals, and $25 billion for testing. The Senate passed the bill by voice vote later that day and the House is expected to follow suit today and the President has said he will sign it into law.

The House also adopted a resolution to establish a Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. Majority Whip Clyburn (D-SC) will chair the panel, which will review the federal government’s response to the pandemic. Republicans largely oppose the new committee, calling it redundant. The House was scheduled to consider a resolution to authorize remote voting by proxy and provide for official remote committee proceedings during a designated pandemic emergency, but amid significant opposition, Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Leader McCarthy (R-CA) will appoint members to a bipartisan group to study the issue instead.

In addition, today House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman Cicilline (D-RI) unveiled a plan today to institute a moratorium on mergers until the coronavirus pandemic is over. The plan would bar all mergers unless a company is already in bankruptcy or on the brink of failure until the national pandemic declaration has been lifted. Cicilline said that he will push to incorporate this plan in the next stimulus package, however its inclusion is ultimately unlikely.

President Trump announced on Monday that he would sign an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States. On Wednesday, he issued a Proclamation. Trump also said this week that he instructed the Secretaries of Energy and Treasury to formulate a plan to make funds available to secure the US oil and gas industry.

Elsewhere, the President and federal agencies continue to take other steps to respond to the outbreak, including, but not limited to:

  • The President directed the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council to focus its efforts on supporting distressed communities impacted by COVID-19, including identifying additional funding needed from Congress to best support minority and distressed areas.
  • The Treasury Department updated Paycheck Protection Program FAQs and published guidance and FAQs for state, territorial, local, and tribal governments on accessing the Coronavirus Relief Fund.
  • Treasury announced it finalized Payroll Support Program agreements with several major airlines representing nearly 95% of US airline capacity and disbursed $2.9 billion in initial payments to two major airlines and 54 smaller passenger air carriers. Treasury will make additional payments on a rolling basis. The Department also updated FAQs on the program and published the Payroll Support Program agreement.
  • The Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a 40% emergency benefit increase in monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
  • The Department of Education released an additional $6.2 billion for colleges and universities to provide direct emergency cash grants to students pursuant to the CARES Act. Secretary DeVos also said that colleges and universities with large endowments should not apply for CARES Act relief funds. She also called on Congress “to change the law to make sure no more taxpayer funds go to elite, wealthy institutions.”
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded nearly $165 million to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in rural communities. HHS also announced additional allocations of funds under the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund. $50 billion is allocated for general distribution to Medicare facilities and providers impacted by COVID-19. $10 billion is allocated for a targeted distribution to hospitals in areas that have been particularly impacted and another $10 billion for rural health clinics and hospitals. $400 million is allocated for Indian Health Services facilities.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a toolkit to help state and local healthcare decisionmakers navigate COVID-19 health workforce challenges.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the first diagnostic test with a home collection option for COVID-19 through a re-issued emergency use authorization (EUA).
  • The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) sent a memo to heads of executive departments and agencies on aligning federal agency operations with the Guidelines for Opening Up America Again.

A complete overview of both congressional and Administrative response efforts is available here and updated daily.

What’s Next

Congress and the Administration will now turn their attention fully to Phase 4 legislation, often referred to as CARES 2 as it is expected to extend and expand upon CARES Act programs. There is likely to be agreement on additional funding for the healthcare system and more support for businesses, especially small businesses. Democrats will also prioritize more funding for state, local, and tribal governments, increased protections for frontline workers, and expanded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and access. Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) said in a letter to colleagues after Senate passage of the interim relief legislation that after the House passes the bill, Democrats will immediately begin work on CARES 2 with a focus on “the health and safety of the American people” and “strong funding for healthcare, police, fire, EMS, and other essential workers.”  Lawmakers and industry alike are also advocating for additional sector-specific relief, with a strong push from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to support media and journalism.

President Trump said on Twitter this week that Phase 4 legislation should include relief for state and local governments, infrastructure investment (including bridges, tunnels, broadband), tax incentives (for restaurants, entertainment, and sports), and payroll tax cuts to increase economic growth. Congressional Republicans are reluctant to provide additional support for state and local governments, with Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) saying this week that he would prefer the bankruptcy route over a federal bailout.

Congress is currently scheduled to return on May 4, but there is a possibility that date could be postponed again. Regardless, McConnell has indicated he does not want to rush Phase 4, preferring to see how CARES Act programs are being implemented. Democrats will advocate for moving legislation as soon as Congress returns.