Updated on: July 31, 2020

Washington: Cutting it Close to the Wire: Stimulus Stalemate Worries States

Original story posted on: July 29, 2020

Pressure mounts as members of Congress are poised to leave for their summer recess that begins in August.

First, the administration formally extended the Public Health Emergency (PHE) last week. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had said the agency was planning on extending the PHE; however, the agency waited until three days before it would have expired before finally doing so, making industry groups and many of the States nervous enough to send letters to the administration urging the extension.

The administration and Congress are also cutting it close to the wire with regard to the next COVID-19 relief bill. The expansion in unemployment benefits set up by the CARES Act expired last week for most people using those benefits, but Congress does not look anywhere close to coming up with a fix to that or any other element of COVID relief.

Senate and administration leaders had trouble all last week coming together on a basic outline for a package, but on Monday of this week the Senate released a $1 trillion series of COVID-19 relief bills that stand as a counter to the $3 trillion HEROES Act the House passed back in May.

The Senate proposal includes a decrease in current unemployment benefits in place of the extra $600 boost in unemployment set up by the CARES Act, new unemployment benefits would provide an extra $200 and then, in October, decrease to 70 percent of lost wages. The Senate also proposed a new round of $1,200 checks for American families, and liability immunity protection from coronavirus lawsuits for businesses and healthcare facilities.

Although we’ve been talking about the next COVID-19 package for months, as of this writing, talks between the House Democrats and Senate Republicans have not actually started, and, right now, they appear to be about $2 trillion dollars apart from each other. If those discussions do start this week, then Congress will be down to about two weeks to work it out before the August recess.

There’s Close to The Wire, And Then There’s Missing the Bus
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published guidance last week about children attending school. The title of the CDC guidance was “The Importance of Reopening America’s Schools this Fall” and the thrust of their argument was that children will be more harmed — socially, emotionally, economically, and academically — by not attending school in person then they would by staying home. In terms of whether children in school could be responsible for wider spread of the virus, the CDC said in their guidance that the studies on that issue have been inconclusive.

But the CDC is probably too little too late with their guidance. Many school systems across the country have spent weeks studying and surveying parents and students about the issue and have already made their decisions. Only five states have required that schools be in-person in the fall, while the great majority of states are leaving it up to the individual districts to decide – and many of the country’s school districts have already chosen to go remote.

I may have misspoken — you can’t miss a bus if there are no busses.

Programming Note: Matthew Albright is a permanent panelist on Monitor Mondays. Listen to his legislative update sponsored by Zelis, Mondays at 10 a.m. EST.

Matthew Albright

Matthew Albright is the chief legislative affairs officer at Zelis Healthcare. Previously, Albright was senior manager at CAQH CORE, and earlier, he was the acting deputy director of the Office of E-Health and Services for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

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