President and Congress Take Steps to Address Coronavirus Global Pandemic

President Trump officially declared a national emergency this afternoon and announced several other steps the White House is taking to address the coronavirus global pandemic. The national emergency declaration will allow up to $50 billion in federal aid for local municipalities and states to use to combat the illness. He also called on every state to set up emergency operations immediately and every hospital to implement their emergency procedures. The executive order also will allow the Secretary of Health and Human services to waive certain regulations and laws to more quickly deliver testing and care for coronavirus patients. And the President has directed the Secretary of Energy to purchase “large quantities” of crude oil for the strategic petroleum reserve. Finally, he said that they are waiving interest on student loans that are held by the federal government.

Earlier in the week, after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic on Wednesday, the President addressed the nation from the oval office informing the country of the measures the administration was taking to stop the spread of the outbreak as well as to shore up the economy. The President called for Congress to “put politics aside, stop the partisanship, and unify together.” More specifically, he said that his administration is:

  • Suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days beginning on Friday 3/13 at midnight.
    • S. citizens are exempt from the ban, but must undergo “appropriate screenings.”
    • The prohibitions will not apply to trade and cargo.
    • The restrictions do not apply to the United Kingdom.
  • Reevaluating the restrictions on travel from China and South Korea for a possible early opening.
  • Working with the health insurance industry to waive all copayments for coronavirus treatments, extend coverage for these treatments, and prevent surprise medical billing.
  • Reducing federal “red tape” to make antiviral therapies available.
  • Issuing guidance on school closures, social distancing, and reducing large gatherings.
  • Instructing the Small Business Administration to provide economic loans in affected states and territories, and asking Congress to increase funding for this program by an additional $50 billion.
  • Instructing the Treasury Department to defer tax payments, without interest or penalties, for certain individuals and businesses negatively impacted.
  • Requesting Congress pass an immediate payroll tax relief bill. The president wants to cut the Social Security payroll tax from 6.2% on the first $137,700 in wages to as low as zero through December 31. Another option is to cut only the employee share of the tax to 2%.

Following the President’s initial address on Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee introduced H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Act. The bill provides the following:

  • $500 million for a special supplemental nutrition program for Women Infants and Children (WIC)
  • $400 million for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)
  • Provision to allow the Department of Agriculture to provide emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to households with children who would have otherwise received free or reduced-price meals at their schools
  • $100 million for nutrition assistance grants to Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
  • $5 million to the Department of Labor to administer the emergency paid sick days program
  • $250 million for the Senior Nutrition program in the Administration for Community Living
  • Provides the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to issue nationwide school meal waivers
  • Allows all child and adult care centers to operate as non-congregate (i.e. they can serve outside the school or in individual settings) and waive all meal pattern requirements if there is a disruption to the food supply
  • Suspends the work and work training requirements for SNAP during the crisis
  • Allows states to request special waivers from the Secretary to provide temporary, emergency CR-SNAP benefits to existing SNAP households
  • Requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) within 30 days, requiring employers within the health care sector – and any other sectors that either OSHA or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) designate at elevated risk – to develop and implement a comprehensive infectious disease exposure control plan to protect health care workers from exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID19
  • OSHA shall issue a permanent health and safety standard, which the Occupational Safety and Health Act stipulates shall be issued 6 months after the ETS has been issued
  • Requires that hospitals and skilled nursing facilities operated by state or local government agencies, which are not otherwise subject to the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 or a State occupational safety and health plan, shall comply with the ETS and the permanent OSHA standard required in this Act as a condition of receiving Medicare funds
  • Creates a new federal emergency paid leave non-taxable benefits program as Title VI of the Social Security Act, consisting of the following Social Security Act sections
  • Provides the Social Security Administration with additional direct (mandatory) funding for both the cost of the benefits and the cost of administering the program
  • $1 billion in 2020 for emergency grants to states for activities related to processing and paying unemployment insurance (UI) benefits
  • Provides states with access to interest-free loans to help pay regular UI benefits through December 31, 2020, if needed
  • Requires the Secretary of Labor to provide technical assistance to states that want to set up work-sharing programs, in which employers reduce hours instead of laying employees off, and then employees receive partial unemployment benefits to offset the wage loss
  • Provides 100% federal funding for Extended UI Benefits for states that experience an increase of 10 percent or more in their unemployment rate (over the previous year) and comply with all the beneficiary access provisions in section 102
  • Requires all employers to allow employees to gradually accrue seven days of paid sick leave and to provide an additional 14 days available immediately in the event of any public health emergency, including the current coronavirus crisis
  • Requires all employers to provide an additional 14 days of paid sick leave, available immediately at the beginning of a public health emergency, including the current coronavirus crisis
  • Ensures paid sick leave covers days when your child’s school is closed due to a public health emergency, when your employer is closed due to public health emergency, or if you or a family member is quarantined or isolated due to a public health emergency
  • Reimburses small businesses—defined as businesses with 50 or fewer employees—for the costs of providing the 14 days of additional paid sick leave used by employees during a public health emergency
  • Enables construction employees to receive sick pay based on hours they work for multiple contractors
  • Requires private health plans to provide coverage for COVID-19 diagnostic testing, including the cost of a provider, urgent care center and emergency room visits in order to receive testing. Coverage must be provided at no cost to the consumer.
  • Requires Medicare Part B to cover beneficiary cost-sharing for provider visits during which a COVID-19 diagnostic test is administered or ordered
  • Requires Medicare Advantage to provide coverage for COVID-19 diagnostic testing, including the associated cost of the visit in order to receive testing
  • Requires Medicaid to provide coverage for COVID-19 diagnostic testing, including the cost of a provider visit in order to receive testing
  • Requires the National Disaster Medical System to reimburse the costs of COVID-19 diagnostic testing provided to individuals without insurance
  • Requires certain personal respiratory protective devices to be treated as covered countermeasures under the PREP Act Declaration for the purposes of emergency use during the COVID-19 outbreak and ending October 1, 2024
  • Ensures that individuals enrolled in TRICARE, covered veterans, and federal workers have coverage for COVID-19 diagnostic testing without cost- sharing
  • Ensures that American Indians and Alaskan Natives do not experience cost sharing for COVID-19 testing, including those referred for care away from an Indian Health Service or tribal health care facility
  • Provides a temporary increase to states’ federal medical assistance percentage for the duration of the public health emergency for COVID-19

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) have had several discussions the past two days trying to negotiate a compromise coronavirus response bill. President Trump said that House Democrats are not giving enough in the negotiations. Republican lawmakers are waiting for a signal from President Trump on whether he’ll support a deal worked out by Secretary Mnuchin and House Speaker Pelosi. Speaker Pelosi said the House will pass legislation today whether or not the President agrees.

President’s Address to the Nation

H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Act Bill Text

H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Act Bill Summary

Speaker Pelosi’s Dear Colleague

Small Business Administration Coronavirus Guidance

Department of Homeland Security Outlines New Process for Americans Returning from Certain European Countries, China, and Iran

DHS Notice of Arrival Restrictions


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