After passing the stopgap spending bill, leaders continued discussing COVID-19 relief legislation. A bipartisan, bicameral COVID-19 relief proposal (attached) recently circulated momentum on long-delayed negotiations.
Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Mark Warner (D-VA) led a bipartisan group of 14 lawmakers that unveiled the $908 billion framework on December 1. It would provide $160 billion for state and local aid, $35 billion in additional funding for the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund (PRF), $6 billion for vaccine development and distribution, $9 billion for virus testing and contact tracing, $4.45 billion for addiction and mental health programs, and short-term liability protections, among other things. The House Problem Solvers Caucus—comprising 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans—drafted and endorsed the package.
Notably, in addition to providing the additional $35 billion in funding, the proposal amends the PRF’s reporting guidelines to clarify that the fund can be used for staffing needs (i.e., childcare staff). It also allows health systems to move targeted PRF distributions within their system. The proposal also directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to consider appropriate distribution of funds, including for health providers that were underrepresented in previous allocations or that are at risk of imminent closure.
The proposal also includes the following provisions:
- Vaccine Development and Distribution
- $3.42 billion in direct grants for states, local, territories, and tribes
- $2.58 billion for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine distribution and infrastructure
- Allows states to use the US Postal Service registry to track vaccine distribution
- Testing and Tracing
- $7 billion in direct grants for states, territories, and tribes
- $2 billion for nursing homes, long term care, home and community-based services, and assisted living facilities
- $300 million for health workforce programs, including the National Health Service Corps and Nurse Corps, to support loan repayment to recruit clinicians for underserved areas
- $700 million for the HHS Secretary for additional research, procurement, and medical supply needs
- Authorizes states, tribes, and territories to enter into interstate compacts or agreements for the purposes of procuring COVID-19 tests and supplies for such tests
- Extends telehealth flexibility through December 31, 2021
The legislative text has not been released yet. The proposal was described by Democratic leadership and several centrist Senators as a possible baseline for a coronavirus relief package.
Negotiators must overcome several hurdles to finalize a deal, including how much funding to provide to state and local governments to meet a key demand from Democrats and how to structure liability protection provisions for businesses and other institutions—a Republican stipulation that Democrats oppose.
Whether Congressional leaders will strike a deal on another COVID-19 relief package before the year ends remains unclear.