Amid the stalemate surrounding a new COVID-19 response bill, Senate Republicans are circulating a new COVID-19 stimulus package that they intend to serve as their response to the House Democrats’ $25 billion Postal Service funding bill.
This “skinny” plan, which has not yet been formally released by Republicans, doesn’t include the $1,200 checks included in the Republican proposal known as the Help End Abusive Living Situations (HEALS) Act. This proposal also excludes the assistance to state and local governments that Democrats have fought for – such as the $1 trillion proposed in the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, passed in May – leaving some of the more costly debates for later.
Breaking Down the “Skinny” Plan
DIVISION A — Liability Protections, Continued Relief for Small Businesses and Workers, Public Health Enhancements and Educational Support
The GOP proposal includes a $300 weekly supplemental unemployment insurance payment for the rest of the year, a notable decrease from the $600 weekly payment that expired at the end of July. This proposed reduced amount matches the federal benefit under a memorandum that President Trump signed on August 8.
The bill also includes liability protections for businesses (Part I), health care providers and health care facilities (Part II). The bill makes clear that nothing included in Part II supersedes the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act or the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. The PREP Act authorized the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to issue a declaration that provides immunity from liability for claims of loss caused by the administration or use of countermeasures to disease. On March 17, the secretary issued the PREP Act declaration, providing liability immunity for activities related to medical countermeasures against COVID-19.
The Paycheck Protection Program that provided forgivable loans to small businesses would also be renewed, and the bill would convert into a grant the $10 billion loan authorization provided to the Postal Service under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act stimulus law.
DIVISION B — Additional Emergency Appropriations
The bill would provide $45 billion to the HHS’ Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, including:
- Twenty-nine billion dollars for the manufacturing, production and purchase of vaccines (prioritizing platform-based technologies with U.S.-based manufacturing capabilities), therapeutics, diagnostics, and other preparedness and response activities.
- This specifically provides for the purchase of vaccines, provided that the secretary of HHS purchase vaccines developed using funds previously appropriate, and allows the secretary to take measures to ensure that a vaccine or therapy developed will be affordable in the commercial market.
- Twenty of the $29 billion is designated to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) for the manufacturing, production and purchase of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. These funds may also be used for the construction or renovation of U.S.-based, next-generation manufacturing facilities, other than facilities owned by the United States government.
- Two billion dollars is designated for the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS).
- Six billion dollars of this amount goes to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prepare for, distribute, administer and track coronavirus vaccines.
- Sixteen billion dollars in funding dedicated almost entirely to states, localities, health service providers and other groups for testing, contact tracing and surveillance purposes.
In addition, this bill requires the CDC to develop a comprehensive coronavirus vaccine distribution strategy and spend plan and report back to the House and Senate within 60 days of enactment. The bill also requires the secretary to report to the Appropriations Committee every 30 days until funds are expended on uses of funding for Operation Warp Speed, detailing current obligations by department, agency or component thereof, broken out by the coronavirus supplemental appropriations act that provided the source of funds.
The proposed “skinny” bill would also provide $105 billion in education funds – 67% of which would go to elementary and secondary school grants, 28% of which would go to higher education institutions, and 5% of which would be available to the governor of each state for education purposes.
Chances of Passage Remain Slim
This package will most likely fail to reach consensus among congressional leaders within the House and the Senate, but it could potentially be attached to a September stopgap spending bill needed to keep the government open after September 30. Congress is currently in recess as members campaign leading up to November elections, but will get at least 24 hours’ notice to return if leadership thinks they will be able to break the impasse and votes are scheduled. It is unlikely that the “skinny” package will have enough momentum to force members of Congress to fly back to D.C. to vote on passage, but it will likely be used to progress discussions in September.
As the number of cases around the world grows, Faegre Drinker’s Coronavirus Resource Center is available to help you understand and assess the legal, regulatory and commercial implications of COVID-19.