Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – September 2020 #1

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  • White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on Tuesday said that there has been “real progress” in talks with congressional Democrats and Republicans on coronavirus relief legislation. “Probably the biggest stumbling block that remains is the amount of money that would go to state and local help,” Meadows told CNBC. Meadows rejected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) request for US$915 billion in state and local government aid. He also waved off the US$2.2 trillion overall bill figure, touting instead a forthcoming Republican proposal that he said could amount to US$500 billion, though Democrats have called it inadequate and are expected to block it.
  • Senate Republican leaders hope to vote next week on their proposed “skinny” coronavirus relief bill, Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) told PBS NewsHour Tuesday morning. The timing of the vote needs to be approved by the entire Senate Republican conference. Details on the package are still scant.
  • While testifying before the House Oversight and Reform Coronavirus Crisis Subcommittee, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told House lawmakers Tuesday that he’s ready to restart negotiations with Speaker Pelosi on a massive coronavirus relief package, emphasizing that both he and President Trump support more emergency aid for workers, schools, small businesses and testing. “Let me say I very much agree with you and those other experts that more fiscal response is needed,” Mnuchin said. He pointed to Trump’s executive actions to temporarily supplement unemployment insurance by US$400 a week, but that money has not reached everyone who needs it. Mnuchin also told lawmakers “the expiration of enhanced unemployment insurance is something that we are concerned about.”
  • Chances have grown in recent weeks that the next coronavirus relief package will pass as part of a continuing resolution to keep the government open. But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) acknowledged in a letter to colleagues Monday that there is no appropriations deal in sight as the end of the fiscal year approaches on 30 September. The House has passed 10 of its 12 bills in two packages, but the GOP-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee hasn’t yet taken up a single fiscal 2021 spending bill. “At this rate, it is likely that we will have to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government open past the end of this fiscal year,” Hoyer wrote. Putting additional pressure on the talks, the government funding deadline is also the expiration for US$25 billion in aid commercial passenger airlines received in payroll support as part of the US$2 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill passed in March. Committees will take the lead on budget legislation the week of 8 September, with floor action expected to resume the following week.
  • The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released eight weeks of previously confidential reports obtained from the White House Coronavirus Task Force that Democrats claim show the administration covering up COVID-19 health risks. The documents show senior Trump administration officials in June privately warning seven states about outbreaks that put them in the highest risk “red zone” while publicly dismissing concerns about a second wave of COVID-19. White House spokesperson Judd Deere accused the lawmakers of “irresponsibly” releasing the documents “for the purpose of falsely distorting the President’s record.”
  • The Department of Agriculture (USDA) extended the flexibility of school meal providers and community organizations to provide free meals to the end of December. Educators and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) had called on the USDA to expand the summer program amid the pandemic. The administration was planning to let the program expire at the end of September and in August, it started having families pay and pick their meals.
  • With millions of people displaced because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau is laboring to meet its constitutionally-required once-a-decade goal of tallying every person living in the country “once, only once and in the right place.” The Trump administration recently directed the Census Bureau to cut short certain reviews designed to make sure the count was done correctly. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Bureau, maintains that the new approach is not “sacrificing quality.” But former Census Bureau officials and other census advocates argue the truncated time for processing responses is likely to further undermine the accuracy of the data and exacerbate undercounts of people of color, immigrants, and other historically undercounted groups.
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says there’s no evidence backing the use of convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19 patients and says that more studies need to be done. “There are insufficient data to recommend either for or against the use of convalescent plasma for the treatment of COVID-19,” the panel of more than three dozen experts says in a statement posted on the NIH website Tuesday. Adding that “Prospective, well-controlled, adequately powered randomized trials are needed to determine whether convalescent plasma is effective and safe for the treatment of COVID-19.” Last week, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma.

In the News

  • AstraZeneca announced Monday that its vaccine candidate has entered the final testing stage in the U.S. The UK-based company said the study will involve up to 30,000 adults.
  • Fifty-percent all U.S. adults are “concerned” or “extremely concerned” that a major health event among those in their household could lead to bankruptcy, according to a new poll from West Health and Gallup. This figure has increased five percentage points over last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • New York City will delay the reopening of in-person instruction in its schools until 21 September and implement monthly testing to avoid a teachers strike, officials announced Tuesday. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said during a press conference that the city will make free testing available every month at every school. In addition to the more than 200 testing locations in the city, mobile testing vans and testing tents at schools will be used.
  • The Florida Department of Health has cut ties with Quest Diagnostics after the state says the company did not report nearly 75,000 COVID-19 test results dating back to April. The Department of Health said the move was at the direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). Quest told the state that "all individuals that tested positive were notified of their results.
  • Exceptionally strong demand, historically low supply and record low mortgage rates are combining to fuel the fastest home price growth since 2018. Nationally, home prices in July were 5.5 percent higher than in 2019. That is a marked increase from the 4.3 percent annual gain seen in June, according to CoreLogic.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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