COVID-19 Washington Update: July 17, 2020
July 17, 2020
Below, please find a summary of the federal government’s activities in response to COVID-19 since Wednesday’s update. Our next update will be published Monday, July 20th.
 

Congress

Members of Congress will return to Washington next week for the first of what most expect to be an intense three weeks of legislative activity, including efforts to pass another round of COVID-19 relief legislation prior to the August break.

Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) plans to brief Senate Republicans on a COVID package on Tuesday, with bipartisan talks to follow. Behind the scenes work continues in a number of policy areas, including liability protections, which Leader McConnell says must be included in the next COVID bill. According to a draft of the Senate GOP liability proposal, the protections for businesses, schools, and nonprofits would last until 2024, or until the expiration of a federal emergency declaration. The proposal would also give federal courts jurisdiction over COVID-19 related personal injury and medical liability claims.

Congress remains far from a consensus on liability. We recently wrote about a bipartisan House bill authored by Reps. Graves (R-LA) and Cuellar (D-TX) which would create a legal safe harbor for entities acting in good faith to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Meanwhile, earlier this week, a group of ten House Republicans wrote to Republican Leader McCarthy (R-CA) asking that the next COVID package include language directing OSHA to issue “a reasonable emergency temporary standard (ETS) to safeguard workers during this public health emergency.” And House Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) has repeatedly stated that the best way to protect businesses, workers and customers is through the OSHA ETS provision included in the House-passed Heroes Act.

The forthcoming Senate GOP proposal is also expected to include another round of direct payments to families and individuals, as well as an extension of enhanced unemployment insurance (although likely at a lower level than the current $600 per week add-on) – we are also likely to see provisions designed to encourage businesses to rehire. More healthcare funding, including for testing, is also expected. Whether Republicans will include additional funding for state and local governments – a priority for Congressional Democrats – is uncertain. And while President Trump continues to press for a payroll tax cut in the next relief package, its inclusion is also far from certain.

Another issue to watch as negotiations get underway is assistance for schools, with Republicans eyeing financial incentives to prod them to reopen this fall. On a related note, the National Governors Association and education groups today called on Congress to provide “the significant resources necessary for schools to balance learning and safety in the fall, while respecting the long-standing principles of state and local control that govern our education systems.”

During a House Small Business Committee hearing today, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said he hopes Congress will pass an additional relief package by the end of this month. He anticipates that “additional relief will be targeted to certain industries, smaller businesses, and lower- to middle-income families that have been especially hard-hit by the pandemic,” with a focus on “jobs and getting all Americans back to work.” Secretary Mnuchin also said Congress should consider automatic forgiveness for all “the small loans” under the Paycheck Protection Program.

COVID-related hearings scheduled for next week:

House
 
  • A July 20 House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing entitled, “Federal IT Modernization: How the Coronavirus Exposed Outdated Systems”

  • A July 21 House Energy and Commerce Committee (Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee) hearing entitled, “Pathway to a Vaccine: Efforts to Develop a Safe Effective and Accessible COVID-19 Vaccine”

  • A July 21 House Oversight Committee (Coronavirus Crisis Subcommittee) hearing entitled, “The Urgent Need for a National Plan to Contain the Coronavirus”

  • A July 21 House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (Economic Opportunity Subcommittee) hearing entitled, “Getting Veterans Back to Work After COVID-19”   

  • A July 22 House Homeland Security Committee hearing entitled, “Examining the National Response to the Worsening Coronavirus Pandemic: Part II”

  • A July 23 House Education and Labor Committee (Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee) hearing entitled, “Underfunded Unprepared: Examining How to Overcome Obstacles to Safely Reopen Public Schools”

  • A July 23 House Financial Services Committee hearing entitled, “The Heroes Act: Providing for a Strong Economic Recovery from COVID-19”

  • A July 23 House Ways and Means Committee (Trade Subcommittee) hearing entitled, “Trade, Manufacturing, and Critical Supply Chains: Lessons from COVID-19”

Senate
 
  • A July 21 Senate Aging Committee hearing entitled, “The COVID-19 Pandemic and Seniors: A Look at Racial Health Disparities”

  • A July 21 Senate Commerce Committee (Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection Subcommittee) hearing entitled, “Protecting Americans from COVID-19 Scams”

  • A July 23 Senate Small Business Committee hearing entitled, “Capital Access for Minority Small Businesses: COVID-19 Resources for an Equitable and Sustainable Recovery”

Recent Congressional Statements / Letters
 
Other Stakeholder Statements / Letters
   

Agency Activity

Treasury Department
 
Internal Revenue Service
 
Department of Labor
 
Department of Health and Human Services
 
Food and Drug Administration
 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
 
Department of Defense
 
Department of Agriculture
 
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
 
Commodities Future Trading Commission
   

Federal Reserve

Federal Reserve Board Modifies Main Street Lending Program To Provide Greater Access To Credit For Nonprofit Organizations Such As Educational Institutions, Hospitals, And Social Service Organizations, July 17, 2020
 

State / Local Activity

Given the plethora of state and local actions, we recommend MultiState’s COVID-19 Policy Tracker as a comprehensive tool to monitor the response