Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, March 2021 # 4

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Your guide to the latest Hill developments, news narratives, and media headlines from Hogan Lovells Government Relations and Public Affairs practice.

In Washington:

  • Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) pledged on Thursday to pass a coronavirus relief bill this week. “No matter how long it takes, the Senate is going to stay in session to finish the bill this week,” Schumer said from the Senate floor. The Senate voted 51-50 along party lines to advance the bill, with Vice President Kamala Harris making the tie-breaking vote.  Senators will face up to 30 hours before being able to start the “vote-a-rama” amendment consideration session, lasting several more hours. Additionally, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has vowed to force Senate floor staff to read aloud the entire bill, which would last 5-10 hours.
  • Senate Democrats made several tweaks to their version of the COVID relief package.  The latest version includes more funding for rural hospitals, increased money for the Shuttered Venue Operations Grants (SVOG), changes to the student-loan borrowing, and changes to the $350 billion pot of state and local aid.  These changes come after announcing that they will narrow the eligibility for receiving the latest round of $1,400 stimulus checks. 
  • The Senate bill made some changes to some of the school funding provisions.  They shifted $2.75 billion of the  K-12 school funding to governors to provide services or assistance to non-public schools that enroll a “significant percentage” of low-income students and are most impacted” by the pandemic.  Also, $3 billion would be set aside for education technology, plus $1.25 billion each for summer and afterschool programs.  Also, student loan forgiveness will be made to be tax-free.
  • President Biden slammed governors for lifting mask mandates.  “The last thing, the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking, that, ‘In the meantime, everything’s fine. Take off your mask. Forget it.’ It still matters,” President Joe Biden said Wednesday referring to Texas and Mississippi rolling back mask mandates.  Thursday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki pushed back on criticism for Biden’s statements as a “reflection of his frustration" while clarifying that the president was likening the decision to Neanderthal “behavior.”
  • The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) delayed releasing its guidance for vaccinated people on Thursday.  The agency is still finalizing the guidance after a series of meetings and consulting with the Deaprtementment of Health and Human Services and the  White House Covid-19 task force.
  • New applications for unemployment benefits rose to 745,000 in the final full week of February, according to data released Thursday by the Labor Department. That’s up 9,000 from the previous week. Another 436,696 Americans applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a program created to expand jobless aid to gig workers, contractors, and others who do not qualify for traditional unemployment insurance.

In the News:

  • Traffic deaths in the U.S. spiked about 8 percent in 2020 even as coronavirus restrictions reduced driving, according to a report released Thursday. The National Safety Council found that vehicle crashes killed 42,060 people in 2020, up from 39,107 in 2019. This despite a 13 percent year-over-year decrease in vehicle miles traveled. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data indicates speeding may be to blame, and the Safety Council added that alcohol, marijuana, and opioids were increasingly associated with the most severe crashes. The pandemic has seen increased use and abuse of all three.
  • Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) said Thursday she will extend her state's mask mandate for another month, a contrast with decisions from governors in Texas and Mississippi to lift orders. Ivey noted that coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have fallen but argued that thanks to the mask mandate, “we have seen dramatic results & real progress being made.” Ivey said that given the improving situation, she would ease some orders, including restrictions on the size of a group at each restaurant table.
  • The World Obesity Federation (WOF), a group associated with the World Health Organization (WHO), on Thursday reported a connection between increased COVID-19 deaths and high obesity rates. “Comparing countries around the globe, we find a close association between deaths from COVID-19 and the prevalence of [overweight individuals] in the adult population,” the WOF said in an analysis. Some countries like New Zealand bucked the trend with strict coronavirus responses, among other factors.
  • Asian American families nationwide are disproportionately opting to keep their children home to learn virtually even as many schools reopen. In New York City, for example, Asian American students make up 18 percent of the classroom, but only 12 percent went back to in-person learning, The Washington Post reports. Anti-Asian attacks have spiked over the past year, with 3,000 hate incidents reported since it began. Lawyer and Columbia University adjunct professor Liz OuYang said these attacks have made people reluctant to leave home or make the commute to school.

[View source.]

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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