Washington Snapshot: The Battle Lines are Firming Up about the Fourth Coronavirus Relief Bill


In This Week's Edition of Snapshot...


News IconNews from the Council

A Call to Action: Philanthropy's Commitment During
COVID-19

take-pledge-email-image

Since March 19, 727 organizations have pledged to institute practices, such as loosening restrictions, contributing to community-based emergency response funds, and making new grants as unrestricted as possible, in an effort to best support nonprofit partners and communities during COVID-19. In addition to joining the pledge, we invite you to consider how you might deepen your commitments through additional tools and resources.


Lending Our Voice

This is an important time to leverage our leadership voice on behalf of our sector. Alongside partner philanthropy networks, we’ve lifted our voice in recent weeks in calls to action around policy and philanthropic practice, including:


Congress IconNews from the Hill

Congress

The House will not return to Washington on May 4th as previously announced. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) said the change was made in light of advice from the attending physician at the Capitol and the continued spread of the virus in Washington and its suburbs. On the Senate side, Leader Mitch McConnell( R-KY) has called the Senate back to Capitol Hill next week.

What is on the legislative agenda when they come back? House Democratic leaders say they will continue to press toward a vote on proxy voting so they can vote without members being present. The House could also vote on Democrats' next relief package, if it is ready at that point.

On the Senate side, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) indicates he wants to continue confirming judges and he has also signaled that Republicans will push for liability protections for businesses around COVID-19 as governors start reopening their economies.


Next Coronavirus Relief Bill... Not for a While

The battle lines are firming up about the fourth coronavirus relief bill. The Democrats are prioritizing aid for state and local governments, monthly cash assistance, protections for renters, money to boost mail-in voting and free health care coverage for coronavirus patients, among other things. House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA0 told the US Conference of Mayors on Thursday the bill is likely to include tax-advantaged borrowing programs, known as private activity bonds and Build America Bonds.

Senate Majority Leader McConnell has taken a position that any legislation for the Senate will have to be deliberated and voted on in person.


Congressional Budget Office

On April 24, the CBO released its report on the projections of output, employment, and interest rates and a preliminary look at federal deficits for 2020 and 2021. Given response to the pandemic, it is not surprising that the inflation-adjusted gross domestic product (real GDP) is expected to decline by about 12 percent during the second quarter, that the unemployment rate is expected to average close to 14 percent during the second quarter, and interest rates on 3-month Treasury bills and 10-year Treasury notes are expected to average 0.1 percent and 0.6 percent respectively.


Executive & Regulatory News IconExecutive & Regulatory Affairs

White House

White House officials are studying the need for more stimulus checks to blunt the economic damage of the coronavirus, suggesting this could be part of a phase four relief package.


Department of Commerce

Census Bureau
The Census Bureau has published a new resource page on Census.gov to help federal agencies, businesses, and communities make decisions related to the COVID-19 pandemic and includes information on population demographics, economic indicators and businesses. It features a new interactive data hub that centralizes already-released data from the American Community Survey and the County Business Patterns program to facilitate users’ access to data useful in pandemic-related decision making. The data hub, released as a beta version, will be updated periodically as the situation changes and as feedback is received from users.


Department of Education

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services Administration (OSERS) has now published a Q & A to help states understand the fiscal management of the Vocational Rehabilitation program in serving individuals with disabilities in the current COVID-19 environment.

The Department also announced more than $300 million for states hardest hit by the pandemic for grants aimed at rethinking K-12 education and reimagining workforce preparation. Some of this funding will be directed toward microgrants to help disadvantaged students learn during the crisis. The $307.5 million in discretionary grants will be funded through the $30.75 billion Education Stabilization Fund -- $180 million for “Rethink K12 Education Models Grants” and $127.5 million for the “Reimagining Workforce Preparation Grants.”

Three categories of funding for the Rethink grants are:

  1. Microgrants for families, to ensure they have access to technology and educational services
  2. Statewide virtual learning and course access programs
  3. New models for providing remote education

The Reimagining Workforce Preparation Grants are designed to expand short-term postsecondary programs and work-based learning programs to help get Americans back to work and help small businesses.

Application packages will become available to state education agencies within two weeks.


Department of Labor

On March 24, 2020 the U.S. Department of Labor (”DOL”) published an initial series of Questions and Answers about the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”), the second relief bill passed on March 11. The FFCRA contains COVID-19-related paid family leave and sick leave provisions which apply to private employers with fewer than 500 employees. DOL states that the FFCRA is effective on April 1, 2020. Yesterday, the Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the first time unemployment filings for last week totaled six million adding to the ten million the week before.


Federal Communications Commission

In an April 23 announcement, the FCC has announced plans to distribute as much as $9 billion through the Universal Service Fund to establish 5G wireless broadband connectivity in rural parts of the country, giving healthcare providers and consumers a better foundation for telehealth and mHealth.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks public comment on two directions for what will be called the 5G Fund for Rural America:

  1. One option would create a competitive reverse auction in 2021 “by defining eligible areas based on current data sources that identify areas as particularly rural and thus in the greatest need of universal service support and prioritize funding to areas that have historically lacked 4G LTE or even 3G service.”
  2. The second option would delay that auction until at least 2023 and give the agency time to collect mobile broadband coverage data through the new Digital Opportunity Data Collection.

Also, the FCC has also adopted rules opening up the 1,200 megahertz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use, giving healthcare providers and others more room to expand Wi-Fi networks and bolster the Internet of Things to support mHealth devices and uses.


The Federal Reserve

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged near zero and said it would deploy its "full range of tools" to support the US economy as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the US economy. Citing that the coronavirus outbreak is causing tremendous human and economic hardship across the United States and around the world, the committee noted that the virus and the measures taken to protect public health are inducing sharp declines in economic activity and a surge in job losses.

Also, the Federal Reserve recently published an analysis exploring the question Can Small Firms Weather the Economic Effects of COVID-19?


Department of Homeland Security

Federal Emergency Management Agency
Some private nonprofit organizations are eligible to apply for funding through FEMA’s Public Assistance program. A FEMA public assistance fact sheet provides guidance for determining the eligibility of PNP applicants and work performed in accordance with the COVID-19 emergency and major disaster declarations.

FEMA continues to expedite movement of commercially pre-sourced and commercially procured critical supplies from the global market to medical distributors in various locations across the U.S. through Project Airbridge. Project Airbridge delivers PPE to the point of greatest need through prioritized distributor supply chains nine times faster than movement by sea. A team of experts from FEMA, HHS, and the CDC work through a data analysis process every 96 hours to ensure resource prioritization is driven by the best available or most current data.

As of April 28, FEMA, the Department of Health and Human Services, and private sector partners combined have coordinated the delivery of or are currently shipping: 75 million N95 respirators, 107.7 million surgical masks, 7.2 million face shields, 15.3 million surgical gowns, 814.8 million gloves, 10,153 ventilators and 8,450 federal medical station beds.


Small Business Administrastion

On Wednesday, the SBA announced it was restricting PPP loan applications to small lenders. Only loan applications from lenders with less than $1 billion in assets, representing the smallest in the industry, would be considered. In the PPP lending process, banks, credit unions, and other approved lending institutions seek the approval of the federal government to back the business relief loans to eligible applicants.

The SBA also clarified late last week that public hospitals are eligible for the loans, after lawmakers urged the agency overseeing the stimulus program to make an exception for rural health providers. About a third of rural hospitals are municipal-owned entities that are typically blocked from receiving federal small business loans. These rural health care providers were inadvertently cut out from the Paycheck Protection Program in the rush to pass last month's $2.2 trillion stimulus package.


Department of Treasury

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced that recipients of Supplemental Security Income and Veterans Affairs benefits who didn't file tax returns for 2018 or 2019 have until May 5 to give the IRS information about their dependents so they can quickly receive extra economic stimulus payments. The agency has created a non-filers tool on its website where people can enter the information. If they don't, they won't receive the $500 payments until they file their taxes for the 2020 tax year.

Relatedly, Bloomberg reports that Treasury struck a deal with Visa, Metabank and Fiserv to get debit cards preloaded with coronavirus stimulus payments to recipients who might otherwise fall through the cracks.

Also, several FAQs were released April 29 by the IRS with additional details on the employee retention credit program. The IRS at the end of March released a FAQ on the general aspects of the credit, but that guidance now includes insights into determining when a business is considered to have a significant decline in gross receipts, what counts as qualified wages, and how the credit interacts with other credit and relief provisions. The retention credit was initially deemed unattractive for a lot of businesses because taking advantage of it meant giving up the chance to receive a forgivable, tax-free PPP loan.

And finally, in reaction to media reports raising questions about the economic hardship status of some businesses being approved for the SBA CARES Act emergency loans, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced this week that the Small Business Administration plans to do a "full review" of PPP loans over $2 million before the loans are forgiven. He said that borrowers will face "criminal liability" if they falsely claimed that they needed the money to continue operations.



State Policy IconHappening in the States

The Pew broadband research initiative has updated its State Broadband Policy Explorer to include laws enacted in 2019, a year in which states focused on three key areas for expanding broadband access: continuing to establish governance and funding structures; clarifying who can provide broadband; and addressing emerging digital issues and opportunities. States also continued to create new entities and funding streams to drive broadband policy, adding to the programs that Pew regularly catalogs.


Exclusive from our colleagues at the National Council of Nonprofits.

National Council of Nonprofits logo

States Supporting Nonprofits May Suffer Under Federal Guidance on Unemployment Insurance

Federal and state laws enable many different employers, including nonprofits, to opt out of their state unemployment insurance pools and, instead, pay back the system for actual unemployment benefits claimed by their former employees. Under April 27 Department of Labor guidance, states are instructed to bill self-insured nonprofits immediately for 100 percent of the costs of unemployment benefits paid to employees laid off as a result of COVID-19 and in some instances penalizes states that had provided additional assistance to nonprofits. For instance, officials in at least six states (Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, and New Mexico) have acted to hold nonprofits harmless by not requiring them to reimburse the state unemployment systems during the coronavirus crisis for benefits their former employees receive. Unfortunately, under the new federal guidance, these states may be in jeopardy of not receiving any federal funds. The North Carolina Center for Nonprofits explains, “Based on the examples provided…, it appears that states can cover some or all of the remaining 50% of self-insured nonprofits’ costs for COVID-19 related claims from their [unemployment insurance] trust funds.” This may apply to the states listed directly above. “However, the guidance warns that states that cover more than 50% of self-insured nonprofits’ claims from their [unemployment insurance] trust funds will not receive full federal support under Section 2103 of the CARES Act.”

Read The National Council of Nonprofits April 28 statement and analysis of the DOL Guidance.