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Coronavirus Supplemental Passes the House

March 14, 2020

With concerns escalating over the spread of COVID-19 in the US and globally, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly (363-40) passed a supplemental appropriations and legislative relief measure (HR 6201 – the Families First Coronavirus Response Act) early this morning to provide relief to those affected and their employers.  It encompasses the jurisdiction of five House Committees (Appropriations, Agriculture, Ways and Means, Education and Labor, and Energy and Commerce). 

The bill – introduced just before midnight Friday – was the result of a day of lengthy negotiations.  It also came hours after the President declared a national emergency. The final bill, which is the second piece of coronavirus legislation to pass the House in the last two weeks, is a compromise from the original coronavirus bill introduced by Democrats. The President’s declaration frees up a significant amount of FEMA funding (up to $50 billion already appropriated for previous disasters) to be used for a wide variety of needs under the Stafford Act.

The most significant compromise in the measure that enabled its bipartisan support is a change from the original sick leave provisions introduced by Democrats on Wednesday. Rather than establishing what Republicans said was a “permanent” paid sick leave mandate upon businesses run by the Social Security Administration, the agreement provides a series of tax credits for employers and the self-employed (which expire on wages earned after the end of calendar 2020). These credits will be used to cover the bill’s mandate that employers offer up to 14 weeks of paid sick leave to workers affected by the coronavirus.   

Other highlights include:

COVID-19 testing – mandates that health plans offer COVID-19 testing at no cost to the patient, and for low-income persons increases the federal match for Medicaid by 6.2 percent to induce States to offer the same no-copay testing option.  (Democrats had originally wanted the federal Medicaid match increased by 8 percent and to have treatment coverage mandated.)

Nutrition assistance – makes provisions to extend the coverage for child and senior nutrition programs, SNAP (food stamp) benefits, and the popular WIC (Woman, Infants, and Children) program – along with various school based-programs – to those impacted by the national emergency.

Unemployment insurance – provides various provisions for extended unemployment insurance and also appropriates additional funds for states to process the increased unemployment insurance applications expected as a result of displacement from the COVID-19 crisis.

 This is the second major supplemental appropriations bill related to COVID-19, the first being an $8.6 billion measure to provide additional research dollars and aid to states and local governments to address their growing public health needs.  Yesterday’s federal emergency declaration will also enable the use of FEMA dollars for these public health challenges.

In the coming weeks, Congress and the Administration will also almost certainly look at additional relief for a range of potential industries (travel, education and hospitality come to mind) and conditions generated by this crisis now entering a response phase called “Shutdown America.”  Clark Hill’s Government and Regulatory Affairs business unit will be working to make sure that we keep you apprised of these developments in real time and to assist enterprises who need some sort of relief from this crisis.

To keep abreast of the most current information in the US and worldwide effort to “flatten the curve” on the anticipated spike in COVID-19 cases, the most useful sites include the CDC website and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health and Human Security. Johns Hopkins also has a resource center with a handy interactive map that shows the scale of this pandemic.

Washington DC is preparing for an extended period of telework and it’s not yet clear how Congress will address its legislative schedule for the rest of the year. Suffice it to say most people expect the schedule for action on non-COVID 19 bills to be delayed from what was expected to be a brisk election-year pace.

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