July 28, 2020

Inside Senate Republicans' nearly $1 trillion coronavirus relief proposal

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    Senate Republican leaders on Monday unveiled a new, nearly $1 trillion coronavirus relief proposal that includes billions of dollars in funding to address the coronavirus epidemic and extend support for businesses and individuals affected by the public health crisis, with a focus on getting Americans back to work and school.

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    US new coronavirus cases surpass 4.3M, deaths top 148K

    The senators unveiled their draft relief proposal amid a resurgence in America's coronavirus epidemic. As of Tuesday morning, U.S. officials had reported  4,303,800 total cases of the new coronavirus since the country's epidemic first began—up from 4,244,600 cases reported as of Monday morning.

    Data from the New York Times shows that Puerto Rico; Washington, D.C.; and 28 states saw their average daily numbers of newly reported coronavirus cases rise over the past 14 days: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

    Meanwhile, the Times' data shows that the average daily numbers of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past two weeks remained mostly stable in Guam and 19 states: Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Washington, and West Virginia,

    Arizona, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Utah, and Vermont saw their average daily numbers of newly confirmed cases decrease over the past 14 days, according to the Times' data.

    Data also shows that growth in America's national coronavirus-related death rate has been rising. According to the Times' data, Puerto Rico and 24 states saw their average daily numbers of newly reported deaths linked to the coronavirus rise over the past 14 days: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin.

    Overall, officials as of Tuesday morning had reported 148,450 U.S. deaths linked to the new coronavirus—up from 146,754 deaths reported as of Monday morning.

    Senate Republicans unveil new $1T coronavirus relief proposal

    In response to America's persisting coronavirus epidemic, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other Republican leaders in the Senate on Monday unveiled a $1 trillion proposal for a new coronavirus relief package, which calls for billions of dollars in new funding for federal health agencies, another round of stimulus checks for Americans, and measures intended to help Americans return to work and school.

    "We have produced a tailored and targeted draft that will cut right to the heart of three distinct crises facing our country," McConnell said. "Getting kids back in school, getting workers back to work, and winning the health care fight against the virus. Kids, jobs, and health care."

    Health care provisions

    The draft bill—called the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act—would allocate:

    • $78.1 billion to the federal Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, including $25 billion for the Provider Relief Fund; $20 billion for vaccine development; and $16 billion to help states with coronavirus testing, surveillance, and contact tracing;

    • $20 billion to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority;
    • $15.5 billion to NIH;
    • $3.4 billion to CDC, including $1.5 billion to bolster state public health efforts, $500 million for seasonal flu vaccine development, and $200 million for public health data reporting efforts;

    • $5.3 billion to the Department of Defense to help increase production of personal protective equipment (PPE) and coronavirus testing supplies;

    • $4.5 billion to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; and

    • $150 million to CMS to increase nursing facility survey frequency.

    While the draft bill calls for billions of dollars in funding to support states' coronavirus testing efforts, the proposal would not provide states and local governments with any additional new funding. Instead, the draft bill would provide state and local governments with more flexibility in how they allocate certain federal relief funds, essentially allowing them to use some federal funds to cover revenue shortfalls.

    The draft bill also would extend repayment deadlines for hospitals, providers, and suppliers who received loans under the Accelerated and Advance Payment Program. Under the proposal, hospitals and providers wouldn't have to begin paying back their loans until 270 days after they received their initial payments. Under the draft bill, the federal government wouldn't apply interest to any outstanding loans received by hospitals for 18 months nor to any outstanding loans received by providers or suppliers for 14 months.

    In addition, the draft bill would extend telehealth flexibilities that the Trump administration has implemented under America's coronavirus public health emergency. Under the proposal, those flexibilities would remain in place through Dec. 31, 2021, or the through end of the federal government's declared public health emergency—whichever occurs the latest.

    Further, the draft bill would direct the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) and HHS to publish reports on telehealth use and its impacts on health care access and quality of care, and would require MedPAC to evaluate whether any of the telehealth flexibilities issued during the federal public health emergency should be made permanent.

    Support for businesses

    The draft bill would extend and implement changes to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which federal policymakers created under a separate coronavirus relief package earlier this year to help support small businesses by offering them loans and grants intended to help employers stave off layoffs and support workers during the epidemic.

    For instance, the draft bill would allow small businesses with fewer than 300 employees that have seen their revenue decline by at least 50% to qualify for a second round of PPP loans and provide loan forgiveness for qualifying second-time borrowers. The proposal also would expand allowable expenses under the program to cover employer costs related to measures intended to help protect against the coronavirus transmission, including purchase of face masks and other PPE and installations of Plexiglas.

    In addition, the draft bill would implement liability protections for health care entities and other businesses if their workers have "an actual, alleged, feared, or potential exposure to coronavirus." The protections would apply to qualifying allegations regarding employers' conduct for a certain period of time. The protections would not apply in cases of gross negligence or willful misconduct.

    Support for individuals

    The draft bill also includes measures intended to help support individuals affected by the coronavirus epidemic.

    For example, the draft bill would extend an increase in unemployment benefits that federal policymakers implemented earlier this year under a separate coronavirus relief package, but at a lower amount. Under the previous relief package, unemployed Americans were able to receive a flat, weekly additional benefit of $600 on top of their typical state unemployment benefits, but those additional benefits have expired. Under the new proposal, unemployed Americans would be eligible to receive a flat, weekly additional benefit of $200 on top of their typical state unemployment benefits through the end of September. Starting in October, the flat, weekly additional benefit would be replaced by a system under which unemployed Americans would receive their typical state unemployment benefits plus an additional federal weekly benefit of up to $500 that, when combined, equal 70% of an individual's lost wages.

    The draft bill also would provide Americans with another round of stimulus checks. Eligibility for the new stimulus checks would follow the same standards implemented under federal policymakers’ previous coronavirus relief package, meaning the federal government would provide direct payments of $1,200 to individual Americans with annual incomes of $75,000 or less and $2,400 for eligible married couples with a combined annual income of $150,000 or less. The government also would provide qualifying Americans with direct payments of $500 for each of their children. The federal government would base the payments on the income levels, marital status, and number of children reported in Americans' 2018 or 2019 tax filings.

    Further, the draft bill includes several measures aimed at helping Americans return to school and work. For instance, the bill would establish childcare grants and allocate $105 billion to help schools operate during the epidemic.

    Next steps

    Senate Republicans’ draft proposal has the White House's support, but it is viewed largely as a starting point for negotiations on a final coronavirus relief package and is unlikely to advance in the Democratic-controlled House in its current state.

    Federal lawmakers hope to approve a final coronavirus relief package before their upcoming recess, which is scheduled to begin on Aug. 7 (Treene, Axios, 7/28; Facher, STAT News, 7/27; Carney, The Hill, 7/27; Haberkorn, Los Angeles Times, 7/27; New York Times, 7/28; Senate Finance Committee American Workers, Families, and Employers Assistance Act, accessed 7/28; Draft bill, accessed 7/28).

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