As Congress Debates Coming Back to DC, COVID-19 Funding Needs Abound

On Monday, May 4th, the Senate is scheduled to come back into session in Washington, DC as the city’s daily rate of COVID-19 cases continues to increase. They will not be joined by their counterparts in the House, after Democratic leadership scuttled plans to return to Washington after hearing recommendations from medical experts at the Capitol. These different approaches to reopening from the House and Senate underscores the increasingly partisan divide in Congress with regards to governance in the time of coronavirus.

Senate Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are eager to get back to DC to continue confirming conservative judges with GOP control of the Senate up in the air in the November election, and also want to support President Trump in his attempts to kick start the U.S. economy and portray the potentially dangerous and very much unproven message that the worst of COVID-19 is over. Over in the House, Democrats are following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-12) in urging a more cautious approach to governing and have finally begun advocating for temporary changes in Congressional rules that would allow remote voting and virtual committee hearings and briefings.

Regardless of their differing approaches, it does not look as if either house of Congress will have any COVID-19 relief legislation ready next week, with Senate Majority Leader McConnell continuing to publicly downplay the chances of it happening at all. After at first outright rejecting the notion of a new COVID-19 relief bill, McConnell amended his hard line stance earlier this week, saying that he would only allow such a bill if it included liability protections for employers that would prevent customers or workers from suing corporations if they contracted COVID-19 on their property. Speaker Pelosi quickly shot down the idea of employer liability protections as part of a new deal, possibly indicating a long legislative road ahead.

This debate over a new COVID-19 relief bill comes on the heels of the passage of the most recent relief package last week. That bill, which is informally being referred to as COVID-19 relief package 3.5, was much smaller than the $2 trillion CARES Act that was passed at the end of March, and failed to address many of the glaring issues raised by the pandemic.

Overall, the COVID 3.5 package will provide $484 billion to support small businesses, health care providers and COVID-19 testing. The majority of that money ($320 billion) will go to the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a loan initiative theoretically aimed at helping small businesses handle the economic fallout from the COVID-19 response. Of that $320 billion, $60 billion will be set aside for smaller lending institutions like credit unions and other community-based real financial institutions after Congressional Democrats pushed the issue. The legislation also covers $50 billion for the SBA’s Disaster Loans Program Account and $10 billion for Emergency Economic Injury Disaster grants.

As far as support for hospitals and health care providers is concerned, the legislation provides $75 billion to help cover reimbursements for COVID-19 related expenses, lost revenue and public health services for uninsured Americans infected by COVID-19. These funds will be housed within the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund in HHS. A further $25 billion will be provided to research, develop, validate, manufacture, purchase, administer and expand capacity for COVID-19 tests.

AIDS United is disappointed that the COVID 3.5 relief package did not include any assistance for state and local governments to offset the significant revenue shortfalls they are experiencing all across the country. We will continue to work to ensure that such funding is included in the next round of COVID-19 relief and that HIV-related programs see federal investment in proportion their need during this crisis.

Please check back frequently with AIDS United’s Policy Update for all the latest information on the federal response to COVID-19, as well our standard coverage of the annual Congressional budget and appropriations processes.