Federal Update: Congress Approves Second Major Coronavirus Response Package
March 19, 2020
Additional Economic Stimulus Measures Forthcoming
On March 18, the Senate approved and President Trump signed into law a second major piece of legislation – the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (HR 6201) – in response to the burgeoning public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the emergency supplemental appropriations bill (PL 116-123) approved by Congress last week focused on providing direct federal aid to help prevent, prepare for, and respond to the novel coronavirus, HR 6201 is primarily a health and economic security measure designed to protect individuals and families who are affected by the outbreak, as well as public health workers who are on the front lines of responding to the crisis.
The measure, which the House approved on March 14, contains a number of key health provisions, including a temporary 6.2 percentage point increase to states’ federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP). Pursuant to the new law, the FMAP boost will remain in effect for the duration of the public health emergency and is expected to yield a $4.46 billion increase in federal funding for the state of California.
The Act also includes a number of other notable provisions, such as free COVID-19 testing under the Medicaid program and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Furthermore, all 50 states will have the option to extend Medicaid eligibility to uninsured populations for the purposes of COVID-19 diagnostic testing. State expenditures for medical and administrative costs will be matched by the federal government at 100 percent.
The law also includes a major Nutrition title, with key provisions allowing for the suspension of SNAP work and work-training requirements for low-income jobless workers during the public health crisis. Additionally, the Act allows states to request special waivers from USDA to provide temporary, emergency CR-SNAP benefits to existing SNAP households up to the maximum monthly allotment and provides USDA broad discretion to provide more flexibility for states in managing SNAP caseloads.
HR 6201 also provides funding for the following programs:
- Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) – $500 million.
- Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) – $400 million. Of the total, $300 million is for the purchase of nutritious foods and $100 million is set aside to support the storage and distribution of foods.
- Senior Nutrition Programs – $250 million.
Finally, the Act includes provisions aimed at assisting certain workers who are forced to take leave due to the coronavirus, including a requirement that employers must provide up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave for “a qualifying need related to a public health emergency” to employees who have been on the payroll for 30 calendar days. The new law’s Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provisions, as well as emergency paid sick leave provisions, however, would not apply to all workers. For example, under the law, private companies with under 50 workers could apply for a waiver from the requirements; furthermore, the law would not apply to private companies with over 500 people. It should be noted that the new FMLA mandates imposed under HR 6201 will generally apply to public agencies.
President Trump Declares National Emergency
On March 13, President Trump declared that the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States constitutes a national emergency. Pursuant to the declaration, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) is permitted to exercise authority under the Social Security Act to temporarily waive or modify certain requirements of the Medicare, Medicaid, and State Children’s Health Insurance programs and of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Privacy Rule throughout the duration of the public health emergency.
The president’s declaration also triggers federal public assistance under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. Federal aid, which will be provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), will require execution of a FEMA-State Agreement, as well as execution of an applicable emergency plan.
Eligible emergency protective measures taken at the direction or guidance of public health officials – and that are not supported by the authorities of another federal agency – will be reimbursed strictly under the FEMA Public Assistance (PA) program at a 75 percent Federal cost share. Reimbursable activities typically include the activation of Emergency Operations Centers, National Guard costs, law enforcement, and other measures necessary to protect public health and safety.
FEMA is expected to administer funds in a manner that is consistent with existing PA program protocols, with Cal OES serving as the lead in implementing the program. Counties can access information related to the California COVID-19 Emergency Declaration (EM-3428), including the availability of FEMA PA program dollars, at: CA EM-3428
Additional Coronavirus Response Bills Expected
As the COVID pandemic continues to unfold, lawmakers have begun developing a third coronavirus response bill, with a fourth bill expected to emerge in the coming weeks. While the first two COVID-19 bills were negotiated directly between House Democrats and White House officials, the third package will be driven largely by Senate GOP leaders and the president.
At press time, it appeared that Republican senators were preparing to unveil a bill that could top $1.3 trillion in federal spending. Although the details are still being finalized, the proposal is expected to include $500 billion in direct payments to Americans, $50 billion in loans to the airline industry, and $150 billion to other severely distressed sectors of the economy. The Senate measure could be released as soon as today, with a vote likely occurring sometime next week.
For its part, CSAC remains active in urging Congress to approve additional funding for various local priorities, including resources for public health preparedness, response, and recovery. The association will be pursuing other key policy objectives, including provisions aimed at ensuring that counties have sufficient programmatic flexibility to respond to workforce needs and administer key health and social services programs.