Updates on Congressional Activity and Outlook in Response to COVID-19
Last month, we shared an update on the first three phases of Congressional action undertaken in February and March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those three pieces of legislation represented the initial response by policymakers to both the health and economic consequences of the pandemic, and spanned a range of areas: increased funding for federal agency response, changes to paid leave policy, injections of resources to hospitals, health care providers, state and local governments, individuals and businesses both large and small. We covered these topics in more depth in a webinar held at the beginning of April (click here to watch the recording).
All Congressional leaders agree that the first three phases of response will not be enough to address the ongoing crises generated by the pandemic. Last week, even as the contours of a larger package of response and recovery measures, dubbed “Phase Four,” were still being debated, it became clear that more urgent action was needed. Small Business Administration officials made clear that the primary vehicle for small business loans, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), had exhausted its initial $350 billion. With Congress dispersed across the country, it fell to leadership in both House and Senate to negotiate an “interim” response package, dubbed “Phase 3.5.” That legislation, officially titled the Paycheck Protection and Health Care Enhancement Act (Text, Summary) replenished the PPP with an additional $310 billion, while also adding funds for hospitals, COVID-19 testing, and other priority items. President Trump signed this legislation into law on Friday April 24.
Now Congress will begin developing “Phase Four” – expected to be a combination of response and economic recovery legislation. At present, there is little agreement over what that next package will include. Currently on the table: additional health care system funding, investments in infrastructure to create jobs, tax reductions to stimulate economic activity, aid to state and local governments, and a range of other proposals. Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, has stated publicly that the Senate will not pass additional legislation until the body formally reconvenes in person – currently scheduled to take place May 4. However, there is widespread speculation that that date could slip further into May, and even once reconvened, a significant number of issues will have to be reconciled between House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, to establish a way forward.
The Reeve Foundation is in regular touch with policymakers on Capitol Hill and in the administration, and alongside a wide coalition of groups focused on issues facing persons living with disabilities, we are monitoring several priority issues for the upcoming package. In particular, we would like to see inclusion of: resources for Home and Community Based Services through Medicaid; funding for direct service professionals and agencies; personal protective equipment (PPE) for home care and family care providers; improvements to paid leave provisions specific to persons with disabilities, and directives that newly available public health information be available in accessible formats.
We urge you to take action as Congress needs to hear from the paralysis community!
As Congress and the administration continue to develop and deliberate the response to the pandemic, we will continue advocating for the unique needs of individuals living with paralysis, their families and caregivers. Please continue to check the Reeve Foundation’s COVID-19 resource pageas we update it often.