COVID-19 Federal Relief: Second of Three Expected Coronavirus-Related Bills Signed by President

Updated: March 23

President Trump signed into law on Wednesday the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This is the second of three coronavirus-related relief bills that are expected in the near term. Here’s a quick breakdown of what is in (or proposed for) each of them.¬†

Families First Coronavirus Response Act:

(Summary from Congress.Gov)

This bill responds to the coronavirus outbreak by providing paid sick leave and free coronavirus testing, expanding food assistance and unemployment benefits, and requiring employers to provide additional protections for health care workers.

Specifically, the bill provides FY2020 supplemental appropriations to the Department of Agriculture (USDA) for nutrition and food assistance programs, including

  • the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC);
  • the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP); and
  • nutrition assistance grants for U.S. territories.

The bill also provides FY2020 appropriations to the Department of Health and Human Services for nutrition programs that assist the elderly.

The supplemental appropriations provided by the bill are designated as emergency spending, which is exempt from discretionary spending limits.

The bill modifies USDA food assistance and nutrition programs to

  • allow certain waivers to requirements for the school meal programs,
  • suspend the work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program), and
  • allow states to request waivers to provide certain emergency SNAP benefits.

In addition, the bill requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue an emergency temporary standard that requires certain employers to develop and implement a comprehensive infectious disease exposure control plan to protect health care workers.

The bill also includes provisions that

  • establish a federal emergency paid leave benefits program to provide payments to employees taking unpaid leave due to the coronavirus outbreak,
  • expand unemployment benefits and provide grants to states for processing and paying claims,
  • require employers to provide paid sick leave to employees,
  • establish requirements for providing coronavirus diagnostic testing at no cost to consumers,
  • treat personal respiratory protective devices as covered countermeasures that are eligible for certain liability protections, and
  • temporarily increase the Medicaid federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP).

Other Coronavirus-Related Federal Legislation

In early March, Congress passed and the President signed an $8 billion emergency supplemental appropriation to fund virus response in the US and abroad.

Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act:

(Summary from Congress.Gov)

This bill provides $8.3 billion in emergency funding for federal agencies to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.

Within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the bill provides FY2020 supplemental appropriations for

  • the Food and Drug Administration,
  • the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention,
  • the National Institutes of Health, and
  • the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund.

In addition, the bill provides supplemental appropriations for

  • the Small Business Administration,
  • the Department of State, and
  • the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The supplemental appropriations are designated as emergency spending, which is exempt from discretionary spending limits.

The programs funded by the bill address issues such as

  • developing, manufacturing, and procuring vaccines and other medical supplies;
  • grants for state, local, and tribal public health agencies and organizations;
  • loans for affected small businesses;
  • evacuations and emergency preparedness activities at U.S. embassies and other State Department facilities; and
  • humanitarian assistance and support for health systems in the affected countries.

The bill also allows HHS to temporarily waive certain Medicare restrictions and requirements regarding telehealth services during the coronavirus public health emergency.

 

Thirdly, an estimated $1 trillion stimulus bill is expected soon. Republican leaders in the Senate have been working with the President to put together a proposed package including small business loans, assistance for airlines, and $250 billion in direct payments for Americans who fall below an income threshold, to be paid in April. Democratic leaders in the House are also putting together a proposal, which would include expansions of sick leave and family leave for workers, as well as tax credits to support the self-employed and gig workers. A procedural vote on the bill failed over the weekend, and lawmakers continue to negotiate.

State-level child advocacy organizations across the country signed onto to a letter to Congress last week asking for investment in the child care and early learning sector as part of the stimulus package, and we are hearing from federal sources that this support is being considered in the stimulus negotiations. NCECF has reported on the financial difficulties child care providers are having during this crisis, even as they are asked to stay open for children of essential workers. We have also shared data from a recent report by the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation that highlights the significant child care economic challenges in the US even before the virus outbreak, which may give us some idea of what could come during and after this crisis.

The President also invoked via executive order last week the Defense Production Act to obtain “health and medical resources needed to respond to the spread of COVID-19, including personal protective equipment and ventilators.” The act can be used to compel US industries to produce certain items in order to help make up for potential medical supply shortages. The President also indicated that he will use it to deploy two hospital ships to provide additional capacity.