COVID-19 Federal Response Update – Tuesday, April 7, 2020

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By Capitol Associates, Inc. 

    • Congress appears ready to pass legislation that provides upwards of $250 billion in additional funding for the paycheck protection program that provides Small Business Administration (SBA) loans to eligible small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Some of the loans can convert to grants that do not need to be repaid if certain conditions are met. The Senate could vote as soon as this week.
      • Legislators from both parties and both Chambers of Congress agree that the SBA will need more funding for this program. President Trump told Congress that he supports providing more funding to this program as soon as possible.
      • The President’s support for quick action prompted an announcement from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that the Senate could pass legislation providing additional funding as early as Thursday. It appears that Democrats in both Chambers will support this bill.
      • It is not known how this impacts Congress’ efforts to pass a “Phase Four” economic relief bill. Congress began talking about a fourth major bill to address the public health emergency before it completed work on the “Phase Three” CARES Act. Statements from Congressional Leadership such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) indicate the Phase Four bill could reach $1 trillion.
      • Extra funding for the paycheck protection program was one of the top priorities for Phase Four legislation. Congress is still expected to advance a fourth bill but it is not clear how priorities for that bill will change if Congress passes a standalone measure to provide more funding for the paycheck protection program.
      • More funding for the healthcare system could be a major component of that bill.
    • The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) issued a report on the effect the coronavirus is having on job losses in specific sectors, including healthcare. The report is dated April 3rd and describes the employment changes, both overall and by specific sector, for the month of March.
      • In March, the unemployment rate increased by 0.9 percentage point to 4.4 percent. This is the largest over-the-month increase in the rate since January 1975, when the increase was also 0.9 percentage point. The number of unemployed persons rose by 1.4 million to 7.1 million in March. The sharp increases in these measures reflect the effects of the coronavirus and efforts to contain it.
      • Employment in health care and social assistance fell by 61,000 in March. Health care employment declined by 43,000, with job losses in offices of dentists (-17,000), offices of physicians (-12,000), and offices of other health care practitioners (-7,000). Over the prior 12 months, health care employment had grown by 374,000. In March, social assistance saw an employment decline of 19,000, reflecting a job loss in child day care services (-19,000). Over the prior 12 months, social assistance added 193,000 jobs.
    • President Trump spoke by phone for around 15 minutes with former Vice President Joe Biden who is also the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for President in this year’s election. Vice President Biden shared ideas about how the federal government can respond to the public health emergency. Both President Trump and Vice President Biden described the conversation as constructive and cordial.
    • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released new recommendations for how healthcare providers should handle non-emergent and elective medical services. CMS previously asked hospitals to postpone elective procedures to preserve hospital bed capacity and personal protective equipment. The document describes a tiered framework for prioritizing care to those who require emergent or urgent attention to save a life, manage severe disease, or avoid further harms from an underlying condition.
    • CMS also published a summary of the actions it has taken to help clinicians respond to the public health emergency.

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