Becker’s Washington Weekly: Week of March 16, 2020

Becker’s Washington Weekly: Week of March 16, 2020

THE HOUSE

The House is in recess this week. Before adjourning for recess late Friday night, the House took legislative action to combat the spread and negative impact of the Coronavirus with the passage of HR 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Below are some of the bill’s key provisions:

  • $250 million for HHS programs that aid the elderly, including home delivery and other services that provide food.
  • States would be eligible for a 6.2% increase in Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) upon meeting certain criteria. States would have to provide coverage of coronavirus testing without cost sharing and meet other criteria, such as not imposing more stringent eligibility standards or additional premiums. Those states that then cover the costs of testing for uninsured people through Medicaid programs would receive full reimbursement through FMAP.
  • The bill requires insurers to cover coronavirus tests and related services. It would also appropriate $1 billion to allow the National Disaster Medical System to reimburse provider cost associated with testing uninsured individuals.
  • $500 million in emergency funding for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program and $400 million for the Commodity Assistant Program within the Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP), $100 of which can be used for the costs related to the distribution of goods.
  • For any school closed for at least five consecutive days because of a coronavirus-related public health emergency, states may adjust their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) to provide additional aid to households with children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.
  • The bill would waive federal work requirements for SNAP eligibility. The waiver would begin the first full month after the bill is enacted and terminate at the end of the first full month after a federal coronavirus-related emergency declaration is lifted. State-imposed work requirements would not be changed, but a person’s participation in SNAP during the emergency cannot be counted for determining compliance with work requirements.
  • An emergency paid leave program would be established if this bill is enacted. Private sector employers with fewer than 500 employees and government entities would have to provide as many as 12 weeks of job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for employees who have to: comply with a requirement or recommendation to quarantine because of exposure to or symptoms of coronavirus, provide care to a family member who is complying with such a requirement or recommendation, or provide care for children younger than 18 years of age whose school or day care has closed because of coronavirus. The first 14 days of leave may be unpaid, though workers can choose to use accrued vacation days, personal leave, or other available paid leave for unpaid time off. Following the 14-day period, workers would receive a benefit from their employers that will be at least two-thirds of their normal pay rate.
  • This measure would also modify FMLA to allow individuals to use unpaid leave if they are diagnosed with the virus, caring for a family member, or caring for a child whose school or day care has closed because of a public health emergency through the end of the year.
  • Private sector employers with fewer than 500 workers and government entities would have to provide employees with paid sick leave to self-quarantine, obtain a medical diagnosis or care for coronavirus, provide care for a family member who has been diagnosed or is in quarantine, or for a child whose school or day care has closed due to coronavirus. Full-time employees would receive 80 hours of sick leave under the new emergency leave program and part-time workers would be granted time off that’s equivalent to their scheduled or normal work hours in a two-week period. Paid sick time could be carried over from year to year.

Though the bill in its current form passed the full House last week, certain technical corrections are still needed before the final legislative language is sent to the Senate. A limited number of House members will meet in a pro forma session early this week to make the necessary changes.

THE SENATE

The Senate will remain in session all week after cancelling a planned State Work Period scheduled for this week. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has not yet indicated whether he believes the bill needs changes or if Senators may agree to pass it swiftly through unanimous consent, though some Senators have already voiced concerns with the legislation.

As the Senate awaits the final version of the House-passed coronavirus relief bill, there is still other work to be done. The Senate is expected to vote Monday evening to move forward with consideration of a House-passed bill to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, commonly referred to as FISA. Though FISA has occasionally been a source of contention for privacy advocates, particularly its usage in authorizing certain investigations related to the 2016 election, the measure is expected to advance.

THE ADMINISTRATION

With hospitals filling up and schools around the country closing due to the threat of the coronavirus, it can be difficult to track all the recommendations and actions taken by elected officials and public health officials. Below is a brief list of some of the recent recommendations and action taken at the federal level to address the spread and impact of the coronavirus.

  • The Centers for Disease Control has recommended not holding gatherings of 50+ people for at least the next 8 weeks.
  • The White House has formally asked federal agencies to offer “maximum telework flexibilities” to employees in the Washington, D.C. area.
  • The Federal Reserve has cut benchmark interest rates by a full percentage point and purchased $500 billion in Treasury bonds and $200 billion in mortgage-backed-securities to bolster the economy.
  • President Trump is hosting a video teleconference call on tackling the threat of the coronavirus with Group of 7 (G7) leaders on Monday afternoon.
  • The Federal Communications Commission approved an order to provide additional funding for its Rural Health Care program to promote the use of telehealth services.
  • At the urging of President Trump, Google is partnering with the federal government to develop “a website dedicated to COVID-19 education, prevention, and local resources nationwide” with a potential initial rollout late Monday evening according to CEO Sundar Pichai.