COVID-19 Legislative Updates
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, Congress has taken action to respond in a number of so-called “phases” – individual pieces of legislation that have grown in size and scope along with the seriousness surrounding the issue.
The first Congressional response, dubbed “Phase One,” was an emergency spending bill including $8.3 billion in total funding to respond to the pandemic in several ways. The legislation, officially named the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, (summary, text) passed the House and Senate and was signed into law on March 6. The bill increases funding for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and a number of other agencies across the government, specifically to address the growing threat posed by the coronavirus. The bill (and subsequent administration actions) also include measures to increase access to telehealth services, which will be much more central to the provision of care in a time of deliberate “social distancing.”
“Phase Two” was a much larger piece of legislation largely written and designed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with a particular focus on ensuring paid sick leave during the pandemic, ensuring free testing for the virus, expanding food assistance and unemployment benefits, and requiring employers to provide additional protections for health care workers. That legislation, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, (summary, text) was signed into law by the President on March 18. The bulk of the legislation’s cost is made up by the new paid leave and unemployment insurance provisions, which you can find more detail on here and which are expected to go into effect within days.
Lastly, “Phase Three” legislation is nearing passage, with the Senate unanimously voting to approve a two-part package in the early this morning (March 26). The legislation includes both important expansions of federal programs and major measures designed to provide economic stimulus and recovery measures to lessen the economic fallout of the pandemic. When signed into law, it will represent the largest single such investment in the history of the country. Among the bills, major provisions are expansions of unemployment insurance, direct cash payments to nearly all Americans, aid to businesses (both large and small), hospitals, physicians, schools, and state and local governments. The Washington Post has a good high-level summary of the package.
As we dig into the details, we’ll share updates on that legislation as it is finalized, as well as key information on how individuals can access these benefits as they are implemented in the coming days and weeks.
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