Senate Republican HEALS Act

Senate Republicans introduced a package of bills called the HEALS Act on July 27, 2020, a relief package to respond to COVID-19. The House introduced their version of a bill, the HEROES Act, in May to provide Coronavirus aid relief.

The House, Senate, and White House are currently negotiating the next COVID-19 response package. Below is a summary of the Senate version of the bill with some comparison to the House bill. Ridge Policy Group previously provided an analysis of the House bill.

Overall Spending

Liability Protections

One of the main components of the HEALS Act is that it would limit potential liability faced by schools, businesses, and other organizations related to COVID-19. It would preempt suits under state laws by creating exclusive federal causes of action for personal injuries related to coronavirus exposure and medical care. It would also shield employers from agency investigation and civil liability for actions to comply with stay-at-home orders and other health guidance, as well as injuries from workplace COVID-19 testing.

Democrats are generally opposed to these liability protections, making it a key negotiation provision.

Unemployment Program

The Senate bill would extend and reduce the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program at $200 per week, instead of $600, between July 31 and Oct. 5. After that, until Dec. 31, payment of unemployment benefits would be based on 70% of lost wages, if the state can calculate those numbers.

Unemployment insurance remains a key sticking point as Democrats and Republicans negotiate the next COVID package.

Paycheck Protection Program

The Senate bill would extend the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses to Dec. 31 and increase total lending authority to $749 billion. It would also offer second loans to businesses with 300 or fewer workers and 50% revenue drop.

The bill would also expand the PPP program to 501c6s, which is something we advocated for on behalf of our clients.

State and Local Support

A key difference from the House bill, the Senate bill provides no new funds to state and local governments. However, it does extend authorized period to spend CARES Act funds and let state and local recipients use previous funds for some revenue shortfalls.

Direct Payments

The Senate bill would provide refundable “recovery rebates” through stimulus checks based on 2019 tax returns in same amounts, income limits, and phase-outs as CARES Act payments. The Senate measure would provide $500 per dependent, the same amount as the CARES Act. this is meant to provide relief and economic security to families as they deal with this crisis.

COVID-19 and other Pandemic Response

The bill provides $20 billion for vaccine, therapeutic, and diagnostic development through the Biomedical Advanced Research Development Agency.

It also creates tax credits to spur US PPE manufacturing to help the federal government reach the goal of 100% domestic sourcing within five years.

The Senate mark requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), in coordination with the Director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to establish and publish policies and procedures for public and private entities to access samples of specimens containing infectious disease agents, or suitable surrogates or alternatives to support the development of products, including the development of diagnostic tests, treatments, or vaccines, to address emerging infectious diseases for biomedical research.

It clarifies that CDC can to enter into agreements with public and private entities to assist in the immediate and rapid development, validation, and dissemination of diagnostic tests for purposes of biosurveillance or other immediate public health response activities to address an emerging infectious disease.

It requires the Secretary, in coordination with the FDA and CDC, to consult with medical product manufacturers, suppliers, and other relevant stakeholders to identify specific supply needs, including specimen collection and transport materials, reagents, or other supplies; identify projected demand and availability of such supplies; and support activities to increase the availability of such supplies or appropriate alternatives.

The bill establishes state stockpiles of medical products and supplies needed during a public health emergency, such as personal protective equipment, ventilators, and other medical products. Additionally, it requires states to submit a stockpiling plan to the Secretary of Health and Human Services for maintaining the state stockpile, and coordinate with the state and relevant state preparedness plans. The bill directs the Secretary to establish an auditing process and withholding funds if a state fails to submit a state stockpiling plan or meet certain benchmarks and other metrics.

It encourages the Strategic National Stockpile to partner with medical product manufacturers, distributors, or other entities to increase the stockpiling and manufacturing capacity of reserve amounts of medical products to be provided during or in advance of a public health emergency.

The bill also requires HHS to publish guidance on how states and tribes can request and access resources from the Strategic National Stockpile.

The bill integrates laboratory testing and epidemiology systems into existing surveillance programs, improving the exchange of electronic health information between health care providers, public health departments, and federal agencies to better provide detection of infectious diseases and inform public health preparedness and response.

The legislation authorizes a network of ten regional Centers for Public Health Preparedness, which will support state and local health departments, health care coalitions, and the public by: disseminating research related to public health preparedness and response; identifying and developing relevant evidence-based practices; helping to prepare through drills, exercises, and trainings; and providing technical assistance and expertise during public health emergencies

The proposal provides $3.4 billion to CDC, including $1.5 billion to continue supporting state, local, and territorial public health needs; $500 million to enhance seasonal influenza vaccination efforts; $200 million to enhance global public health security efforts; and $200 million to modernize public health data reporting. Some other key funding levels include:

  • $480.56 million for National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
  • $10.1 billion to reopen NIH-funded research laboratories and reconstitute lost research
  • $1.24 billion for the ACTIV public-private partnership to prioritize and speed the development of treatments and vaccines
  • Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund – $78.1 billion, including:
    • Provider Relief Fund – $25 billion
    • Testing – $16 billion for testing, contact tracing, and surveillance in states.
    • BARDA – $20 billion for vaccine, therapeutic, and diagnostic development
    • Vaccine Distribution – $6 billion to develop and execute a new COVID-19 vaccination distribution campaign coordinated through CDC
  • Strategic National Stockpile – $2 billion
  • Global Health Programs – $3 billion. The proposal provides $3 billion to provide the United States contribution to GAVI, The Vaccine Alliance.
  • International Disaster Assistance – $1 billion. The proposal provides $1 billion to support vaccine distribution abroad, including through the World Food Programme.

Education

The Senate bill provides $29 billion for colleges and universities. The wealthiest private colleges subject to an endowment tax last year would lose out on some money. The bill would reduce those colleges’ allocation of higher education funds by 50% compared with other colleges not subject to the tax.

It also includes $5 billion to a flexible fund distributed by Governors to use for education as they wish.

The Senate bill does not extend an automatic pause on loan payments by federal student borrowers that expires Sept. 30. Instead, it includes an Alexander proposal to overhaul multiple existing payment options by allowing a choice between a standard 10-year repayment plan or paying 10% of a graduate’s discretionary income.

The bill would give child-care providers $15 billion in emergency assistance, double the amount Democrats have offered. This would be through the Child Care and Development Block Grant program, which allows states to disseminate federal funds as needed.

It clarifies that the CARES Act waiver for matching funds in Federal Work Study extends to participating non-profit organizations that provide opportunities for students to work in community service positions.

It also extends existing CARES authority to reallocate Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant or Federal Work Study funds through the end of the 2020- 2021 award year or the end of the qualifying emergency, whichever is later.

Disability Support

The bill provides $75 million for services targeted to older Americans and the disability community, including caregiver support and protection and advocacy. It also provides $25 billion for a provider relief fund.

Unfortunately, the bill does not include an increase in funding for Home and Community Based Services, something that Gov. Ridge has strongly advocated for.

This summary was produced by Ridge Policy Group, a lobbying firm, that has supported clients throughout the Coronavirus pandemic. The firm has secured additional funding for clients through the previous response packages. We have also provided insights throughout the negotiation and legislative processes. Ridge Policy Group clients’ have noted that we are among the best lobbyists in Washington, DC.

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