With the Biden Administration set to take over, COVID-19 priorities are expected to change. To assist with identifying and anticipating the Administration’s priorities, we outline below the Administration’s key initiatives.
Currently, vaccine demand exceeds supply. While there are approximately 260 million adults eligible for vaccination in the first half of 2021, the federal government has secured enough doses for only 200 million inoculations. The new Administration is expected to use the Defense Protection Act (DPA) to enhance production. President-elect Biden’s American Rescue Plan calls for $10 billion investment in expanding domestic manufacturing for pandemic supplies.
President-elect Biden recently described vaccine distribution as “the greatest operational challenge we’ve ever faced.” According to the CDC, as of mid-January, some 31 million vaccine doses had been distributed nationwide, but only about 12 million had been administered. President-elect Biden’s American Rescue Plan proposes solutions at both the federal and state levels to facilitate vaccine distribution, in addition to a new range of public-private partnerships with a goal of distributing 100 million vaccine doses in the Administration’s first 100 days.
- Utilizing FEMA to convert sports stadiums, theme parks, school gyms, and other venues into vaccine distribution centers.
- Allocating $30 billion to the Disaster Relief Fund to be used for PPE and 100% federal reimbursement for emergency response resources at the state and local level.
- Providing access to vaccines free of charge and without cost-sharing.
- Making racial equity a priority for distribution efforts.
- Encouraging states to deploy federal resources, including the National Guard, to streamline vaccination efforts.
- Reimbursing states 100% for the costs of deployment—an increase from the previously-offered 75% reimbursements for most states.
- Providing funding for hiring 100,000 new public health workers, tripling the country's current community health force to facilitate vaccination distribution, outreach, and contact tracing.
- Potentially hiring retired doctors to facilitate distribution, similar to the initiatives of some states—Connecticut and Nevada—who have called upon veterinarians and others among a wide array of health care workers to assist in vaccine distribution.
- Utilizing the DPA “to work with private industry to accelerate the making of materials needed to supply and administer the vaccine,” having already purportedly “identified the suppliers who are prepared to work with our teams[.]”
- Accelerating efforts to make the vaccines available at local pharmacies and other retailers, an initiative endorsed by pharmacy executives and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.
Flattening the Curve
In addition to continuing limits on international travel, the President-elect is expected to issue a range of executive orders on his first day in office focused on limiting COVID-19 spread.
- Launching a “100 Day Masking Challenge,” including a mask mandate on federal property and interstate travel.
- Reversing Trump’s lifting of COVID-19 travel ban on passengers from Europe and Brazil, and keeping in place restrictions on travel from China and Iran.
- Strengthening public health measures around international travel to further combat the spread, with the possibility of new testing requirements before entry into the US.
Supporting Small Businesses
Small businesses continue to face the brunt of the economic fallout from COVID-19, with many left behind by the original Paycheck Protection Program and Federal Reserve lending initiatives. President-elect Biden’s American Rescue Plan proposes expanding funding to small businesses through initiatives supplemental to the existing Paycheck Protection Program.
- Providing an additional $35 billion—that could be leveraged into $175 billion—in low-interest loans and capital for small businesses in addition to the existing Paycheck Protection Program.
- Providing $15 billion in flexible federal grants to “the hardest hit” small businesses.
President-elect Biden has also emphasized the equitable distribution of these additional loans, with a focus on minority-owned and women-owned small businesses.
The K-shaped pandemic recovery continues to have a disproportionate impact on low-income borrowers, and President-elect Biden has emphasized extending relief to affected populations. Through executive action and working with Congress, President-elect Biden is expected to:
- Extend relief for federal student loans, including through Executive Orders on his first day in office.
- Extend eviction and foreclosure moratoriums.
- Continue applications for forbearance on federally-backed mortgages until September 30, 2021.
Investigations and Regulatory Enforcement
Oversight, law enforcement, and regulatory bodies are all expected to prioritize investigation of pandemic-related misconduct. Special attention is likely to be paid to those who participated in COVID-19 relief initiatives and may be perceived to have taken advantage of programs or to have gained unique deals from the prior administration. Emphasis will likely be on:
- Continuing criminal investigations for fraudulent loan applications, including PPP and EIDL.
- Investigations concerning participation in Operation Warp Speed.
- Civil enforcement inquiries for government-related transactions, involving the FCA, FIRREA, and civil forfeiture actions.
- Investigations of potential violations of criminal antitrust laws, including detection of bid rigging and collusion in the competitive bidding process.
- Investigations by the SEC regarding disclosure misstatements related to the financial impact to issuers of COVID-19 and related accounting practices.
The pandemic has also raised myriad challenges for employers—many of whom have struggled with a decline in demand and unprecedented labor and logistics challenges. President-elect Biden’s American Rescue Plan proposes expanded federal support for paid leave and an increase to the minimum wage. Biden administration initiatives are expected to include:
- Reinstatement of emergency paid leave program under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, paired with an elimination of exemptions for employers with more than 500 employees.
- Over 14 weeks of paid leave for those who are quarantining, those requiring time to become vaccinated, and caregivers.
- Employers with fewer than 500 employees will be reimbursed 100% for the cost of emergency leave through a refundable tax credit.
- Employers with greater than 500 employees will be required to provide paid leave and would not be reimbursed.
- A maximum paid leave benefit of $1,400 per week—up to $73,000 a year—and extending emergency paid leave measures until September 30, 2021.
- Incentives for employers to choose short-time compensation programs, also known as work sharing, over layoffs where possible.
- Increasing the federally mandated minimum wage to $15 an hour and ending tipped minimum wage and sub-minimum wage for people with disabilities.
State and Local Funding
Emergency state and local funding became a focal point after such relief was excluded from the package passed by Congress in December. President-elect Biden’s American Rescue Plan includes $350 billion total for state and local governments dealing with the fallout of COVID-19. How it will be allocated remains unclear.
Investment in Sciences
The Biden administration is also emphasizing a science-driven approach to addressing the complex needs of a global pandemic.
- Increasing funding to expand sequencing, surveillance, and outbreak analytics capacity.
- Urging Congress to authorize Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a COVID-19 Protection Standard.
- Committing to fight climate change as a driver of health threats.
International Presence and Cooperation
The President-elect has committed to providing support to the international health and humanitarian response to the pandemic, and to support international efforts to develop and distribute medical countermeasures for COVID-19, including through rejoining the World Health Organization and empowering the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and other federal agencies to take more active roles in leading an international response to the pandemic.