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Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – May 21, 2020

Your guide to the latest Hill developments, news narratives, and media headlines provided by the Hogan Lovells Government Relations and Public Affairs team.

In Washington

  • A bipartisan group of Senators have agreed on legislation expanding the loan forgiveness period for the Paycheck Protection Program. The “Paycheck Protection Program Extension Act” would allow borrowers 16 weeks to use their SBA loan funds instead of 8 weeks. It would also extend the deadline to apply for the PPP from 30 June, 2020, to 31 December, 2020. The bill would also allow loan funds to be used to purchase PPE for employees and pay for adaptive investments. The Senate is hotlining the bill to see if they can pass it by unanimous consent.
  • A few Republicans are starting to publicly show support for another stimulus package. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) tweeted, “it’s unfathomable that the Senate is set to go on recess without considering any additional #COVID19 assistance for the American people. Anyone who thinks now is the time to go on recess hasn’t been listening.” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said, “Congress has a tremendous responsibility to help mitigate the impact of this crisis on our states and our local communities and on the families they serve. We must not wait. We should act now.” Sen. Gardner is now threatening to block the Senate from adjourning for the Memorial Day recess. Nevertheless, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) isn’t budging on his position and drew a new red line in the negotiations, assuring that expanded unemployment insurance will not be in the next bill. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he’s pushing President Trump to get behind a plan to fund infrastructure projects. Sens. Roy Blunt (R-MO) of Missouri and Roger Wicker (R-MS) also want an infrastructure package in the next stimulus bill.
  • Administration officials are preparing plans to extend the federal deployment of more than 40,000 National Guard members performing coronavirus relief work across the country after lawmakers pressured President Donald Trump to keep the Guards in place past June. Deployments will be extended through July, which would maintain federal funding for troops administering Covid-19 tests, disinfecting nursing homes, and performing other public safety duties in almost every state.
  • Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) is proposing a back-to-work bonus of US$450 a week for those who return to their jobs before the end of July. The measure would redirect federal subsidies for unemployment insurance toward a temporary work incentive for employees.
  • D.C.’s mayor says the city may be ready to gradually reopen starting Friday, 29 May if coronavirus case numbers and other data continue to show improvements. During Thursday’s press conference, Mayor Muriel Bowser said the start of a phased reopening would be gradual and not like “hitting an on-and-off switch.” The city has seen 11 consecutive days of declined community spread of the virus and officials say they must see 14 days of this trend to lift the stay-at-home order, in addition to hitting other goals.
  • With coronavirus stimulus and other pandemic-related legislation consuming the House and Senate legislative agendas, fiscal year appropriations bills are moving down on the schedule. So far, many committees have bypassed their self-imposed target dates for markup and passage. House committee members are still optimistic that they will get their work done. House Democrats had planned to pass all 12 appropriations bills by the end of June, but have now delayed the work until after they negotiate and pass a Phase 4 COVID-19 relief bill. Senate Republicans are not feeling any rush to act on the Phase 4 bill, but said they hope to soon reach an agreement on subcommittee allocations and markup several of the bills toward the end of June and through July.
  • In an interview with POLITICO, CDC Director Robert Redfield denied reports that the White House rejected the set of guidelines his agency drafted to reopen the country but had received “constructive criticism” from the White House coronavirus task force which delayed the document’s release. Redfield also didn’t commit to holding regular coronavirus briefings as they had done in March.
  • Twenty-Seven GOP Senators wrote Attorney General William Barr asking him to investigate the activities of “dozens” of Planned Parenthood affiliates that reportedly applied for and received approximately US$80 million in loans from the Paycheck Protection Program. The Senators allege that the requests were made with full knowledge that they were ineligible for such loans.

In the News

  • Another 2.4 million workers filed for unemployment benefits last week, even as restrictions are being lifted across parts of the U.S. That brings the total number of new claims over the past nine weeks to more than 38 million.
  • At least four states combined data from two different test results, potentially providing a misleading picture of when and where coronavirus spread as the nation eases restrictions. Virginia, Texas, Georgia, and Vermont have said they’ve been adding two numbers to their totals: viral test results and antibody test results.
  • More than 1.5 million people in the United States have tested positive for coronavirus and over 93,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University
  • Home sales last month were 17.2 percent lower than they were in April 2019, according to the National Association of Realtors. The April drop in closings is the largest one-month decline since July 2010, when the homebuyer tax credit, a federal stimulus resulting from the subprime mortgage crash, expired.
  • Drugmaker AstraZeneca said it received more than US$1 billion from the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to develop a vaccine in partnership with the University of Oxford. The company said it will begin the first deliveries of doses by September, but it must first prove its potential vaccine is safe for humans and effectively prevents the infection.
  • As states begin to reopen, venues like theme parks and sports stadiums will need to implement health safety procedures, including temperature screenings. But for venues with large crowds, mass temperature checks are nearly impossible. To handle that, tech companies IntraEdge and Pyramid have created a contactless kiosk that can check the temperature of up to 1,500 people per hour.
  • The Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) says travelers headed to U.S. airports in the coming weeks will have to scan their boarding passes themselves at security checkpoints and face long lines. Travelers will also have to put their carry-on food in a clear plastic bag to avoid setting off an alarm, lessening the chance a TSA officer will have to touch their items. TSA is also telling travelers to wear masks.