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Public Policy Update: COVID-19 Capitol Hill Initiatives

Posted on: 3/17/2020

As indicated in the previous update, the House successfully passed the second coronavirus response bill on Saturday evening that focuses new resources on covering testing for the insured and uninsured and supports paid time off for parents whose children are out of school and certain other employees. However, yesterday evening after a full day of bipartisan negotiations, the House passed technical corrections that made some substantial changes to the original bill passed over the weekend. The biggest adjustment is that the emergency leave that grants an additional 10 week leave at a reduced rate of 2/3rds regular salary (beyond the two week paid leave) now only applies to individuals who need to care for a child who is either sick or for whom childcare is unavailable due to the COVID-19. This requirement now applies to all employers of over 50 employees.

Currently, the House Representatives is in recess and its Members are already back in their home districts (the technical fix bill was passed via a unanimous consent procedure, meaning an in-person vote was unnecessary). The Senate is still at work in Washington this week and is currently working to meld the bill just passed by the House with a third response bill (which remains undrafted at this time) aimed at larger economic impacts. The resulting stimulus and response package would be the largest in U.S. history, totaling over $1 trillion in support to the American people and economy. At the moment, additional support could look like the following: $50 billion for the airline industry, $250 billion for small-business support, $500 billion for a payroll tax holiday, and $250 billion for direct federal payments to families and individuals. These numbers are very fluid and could continue to rise as the White House negotiates with Senate Republicans and Democrats.

At the same time, Senate Democrats are currently pitching a package of at least $750 billion that would include emergency aid for hospitals, expanded unemployment insurance, more funds for small business, help with childcare, and food assistance for seniors.

In a separate action today, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced that families and small businesses can defer tax payments for 90 days, but are still asking Americans to file by the April 15th deadline. This covers a broad range of Americans, including small businesses that file as individuals who owe up to $1 million, and other categories of small businesses, sole proprietors, and corporations owing up to $10 million. Penalties and interest that would otherwise apply during this nearly three-month period will be waived, offering up a large amount of liquidity to the economy at a crucial point in the fight against the coronavirus.

The current response package is primarily focused on the healthcare concerns and immediate potential life-or-death impacts. Through various mechanisms, the bill covers the costs of testing for both insured and uninsured individuals. To slow the spread of the virus, the bill mandates paid sick leave and family leave. Eligible employees are granted two weeks paid leave and up to 10 additional weeks of job-protected emergency leave. This can be due to their own illness or to care for an at-risk family member or to care for a child who no longer can go to school or if a child-care provider is unavailable due to the coronavirus.

A lot of these proposals are in flux as negotiations continue. Other provisions in discussion include large-scale public works projects, tweaks to the EB-5 visa program, and tariff relief (the U.S. is currently still imposing tariffs on multiple countries). Most options for relief and response are on the table still and prior political and ideological positions regarding deficits and spending are out the window.

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