Capitol to Capitol | April 20, 2020

4/20/2020

This week, NCSL will intensify efforts to secure more flexible resources for states. Congress is looking to adopt a package to provide additional funds to the Paycheck Protection Program and hospitals as early as Wednesday. NCSL is working to expand the allowable uses of the Coronavirus Relief Fund to include lost revenue. 

NCSL in D.C.

Letters

Blogs/New Resources

NCSL Intensifies Advocacy for Aid to Address State Revenue Shortfalls

Last week, NCSL redoubled efforts to secure additional, flexible funds for states to mitigate the catastrophic economic effects of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. In a letter to congressional leadership, NCSL urged Congress to provide states with $300 billion in direct, flexible assistance to mitigate drastic declines in revenues and avoid disruptions in essential citizen services. Additional resources are critical to compensate for the 15-20% projected revenue losses in every state and to help leaders invest in an eventual economic recovery. With three substantial COVID-19 response packages already enacted and one in the implementation process—Congress is developing parameters for a fourth measure that would continue to stimulate the broader economy and provide relief to citizens as containment measures for the virus remain in place. This recent request to Congress follows an earlier letter by NCSL urging leaders to amend the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to allow the $150 billion state fund currently in statute to be explicitly used for revenue losses. While the time frame for legislative activity on the next response package or the CARES Act remains unclear, there is bipartisan momentum to achieve consensus on these measures by early May.

NCSL Contact: Erlinda Doherty

COVID-19 Pandemic Disrupts FY 2021 Appropriations Schedule

As expected, the COVID-19 outbreak has dominated all congressional activity, including what was already expected to be a chaotic appropriations schedule. With Congress on leave at least until May 4, any progress on funding for agency operations will have to be addressed in periodic spurts. Both chambers are considering holding agency hearings in virtual formats to make progress ahead of scheduled recesses in August for national political conventions and the November general elections. Funding for FY 2021 must be addressed by Sept. 30 to avoid a government shutdown. Other expirations requiring funding include surveillance authorities that lapsed on March 15, federal health programs now due to expire on Nov. 30, many pandemic response programs due to expire by the end of the year, and tax extenders, which expire Dec.31. 

NCSL Contact: Erlinda Doherty

First $30 billion of CARES Act Provider Relief Funds Goes Out

Health and Human Services (HHS) announced $30 billion in funding to support providers for health-care-related expenses or lost revenue due to COIVD-19. The funding is part of a $100 billion relief fund for hospitals that was included in the CARES Act. HHS worked with UnitedHealth group to distribute funds to eligible providers. These rapid payments are not loans and will not need to be repaid. The payment distribution was determined by a formula that is based on a share of total Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) reimbursements in 2019. Total FFS payments were $484 billion in 2019.

Eligibility Criteria Included:

  • Facilities and providers that received Medicare FFS reimbursements in 2019.
  • Providers that agree not to seek collection of out-of-pocket payments from a COVID-19 patient that are greater than what the patient would have to pay an in-network provider.
  • Providers heavily impacted by COVID-19 and who have had issues with operations due to delaying care for healthy patients and canceling elective services.
  • Those who ceased operation as a result of the pandemic if they provided diagnoses, testing or care for those with COVID-19, along with other essential care.

The agency also pointed out this funding is different than Center for Medicare and Medicaid Service’s Accelerated and Advance Payment Program, which is for providers and suppliers to get the resources they need for the pandemic, but are advanced payment loans that need to be paid back. The agency is working on further guidance and information on how the remaining $70 billion will be allocated.

NCSL Contacts: Haley Nicholson and Margaret Wile

USDA Releases Initial Details of CARES Act Aid for Farmers

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the creation of the $19 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) as part of the $23.5 billion funding the agency received in the CARES Act. The CFAP makes use of a combination of the funding and authorities provided in the CARES Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, as well as the other USDA existing authorities. The combination of direct payments to farmers and bulk government purchases of commodities parallels the approach the administration has used as part of the $28 billion it has provided in response to retaliatory tariffs over the past two years.

First, the CFAP will provide $16 billion for direct support for agricultural producers, $9.6 billion of which has been allocated for the livestock industry, which is further divided with $5.1 billion for cattle, $2.9 billion for dairy and $1.6 billion for hogs. Also included is $3.9 billion for row crop producers, $2.1 billion for specialty crops producers and $500 million for others crops.

Second, the CFAP will partner with regional and local distributors to purchase $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy and meat. Purchases will be made in increments of $100 million per month in fresh fruits and vegetables, $100 million per month in a variety of dairy products and $100 million per month in meat products. Distributors and wholesalers will then provide a pre-approved box of fresh produce, dairy and meat products to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other non-profits. The president also announced that the USDA will make use of other sources to provide $14 billion in additional aid in July.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth

FEMA Releases a Disaster Financial Management Guide

On April 16, the Federal Emergency Management Agency released a Disaster Financial Management Guide. The guide identifies the capabilities and activities necessary to successfully implement disaster financial management in a cost-effective way. This includes:

  • Information on how to track, calculate and justify the costs of an emergency.
  • Supports for local reimbursement reconciliation.
  • How to avoid deobligation of grant funding.
  • How to effectively fund and implement recovery projects and priorities.

The guide is intended to support jurisdictions in identifying the resources needed to support their community, increase the efficiency of recovery efforts, and reduce the likelihood of audits and financial penalties for the jurisdiction.

NCSL Contacts: Susan Frederick and  Lucia Bragg

Census Bureau Delays Collection Operations

PL 94-171, enacted by Congress in 1975, requires census data be given to the states no later than one year from Census Day, or April 1, 2021. Due to COVID-19, the Census Bureau has delayed collection operations and has extended the deadline for dissemination of redistricting data to the states to July 31, 2021. This extension, in turn, will force many states with firm redistricting deadlines to amend their laws, as only six states do not require that census data be used for redistricting. NCSL will be working with the Census Bureau and members of Congress to determine the best course of action moving forward.

NCSL Contacts: Susan Frederick and Lucia Bragg

DHS and USDA Announce New Flexibilities for Farm Guest-Worker Program

The Department of Homeland Security and the USDA announced significant changes to the H-2A program, which has resulted in closing many international borders across the world in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic. The H-2A program allows U.S. employers or U.S. agents who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs. Specifically, the changes will allow employers to employ certain foreign workers who are currently in H-2A rather than those having to apply from outside the United States. Additionally, current H-2A workers can remain in the U.S. for the three-year maximum allowable period.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Ann Morse

EPA Rescinds Legal Justification for MATS Final Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) withdrew the “appropriate and necessary” finding for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) final rule. The rule sets limits on emissions of mercury and other harmful air toxins from new and existing coal- and oil-fired power plants, but does not rescind the rule itself.

The history is that in 2012, the EPA finalized the MATS final rule, which found it “appropriate and necessary” to regulate these pollutants under the Clean Air Act. In 2015, the Supreme Court held 5-4 in Michigan v. EPA that the EPA acted unreasonably in failing to consider cost when deciding whether regulating mercury emissions from power plants is “appropriate and necessary.” In 2016, the EPA responded by issuing a final rule explaining how the EPA had taken cost into account in evaluating whether it is appropriate and necessary to set standards for emissions of air toxins from coal- and oil-fired power plants. In 2017, under a new administration, the EPA proposed to withdraw the appropriate and necessary finding. The current action by the EPA finalizes that action.   

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth

Education Department Announces Streamlined Waiver Process for State and District Funding Flexibilities

State education agencies can now apply for waivers that grant additional flexibilities on state and district funding using a streamlined waiver form. Among the new flexibilities, states can allow districts to carry over more than 15% of their federal FY 2019 Title I funds to the next fiscal year. States can receive a waiver to extend the period of availability of FY 2018 funds for many Elementary and Secondary Education Act categorical programs (including Title I A-D, Title II, and Title IV A-B) until Sept. 30, 2021. The waiver also allows states to grant districts flexibility within allowed uses of Title IV-A funds, including waiving the 15% limit of use of funds to purchase technology infrastructure and teacher training on distance learning. These additional flexibilities were authorized by the CARES Act and complement previously announced waivers on federal state assessment and accountability provisions.

NCSL Contacts: Austin Reid and Jocelyn Salguero

Federal Deficit Expected to Increase by $1.6 Trillion due to COVID-19 Stimulus Packages

As a result of the federal government’s stimulus packages to help citizens and businesses endure the health and financial effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, the deficit is expected to increase by $1.6 trillion, according to Congressional Budget Office’s most recent report. Based on projections for a $1 trillion deficit before the onset of the pandemic, the new gap is expected to equal more than 10% of gross domestic product, or the largest since World War II. For this year, the CARES Act will cost more than $1 trillion of outlays, while reducing revenue by $571 billion.

NCSL Contact: Erlinda Doherty

The Reading Room

The Reading Room: CARES Act Specific

Read the April 6 Capitol to Capitol.

NCSL's Advocacy in Washington

NCSL’s Washington staff advocates on behalf of state legislatures before Congress, the White House and federal agencies in accord with the policy directives and resolutions that are recommended by the NCSL Standing Committees and adopted by the full conference at the annual NCSL Legislative Summit Business Meeting. As a result of the advocacy that is guided by these policies' positions, NCSL is recognized as a formidable lobbying force in state-federal relations.

NCSL Staff in Washington, D.C.

  • Molly Ramsdell | 202-624-3584 | Director
  • Erlinda Doherty | 202-624-8698 | Budgets and Revenue
  • Susan Frederick | 202-624-3566 | Law, Criminal Justice, and Public Safety
  • Abbie Gruwell 202-624-3569 | Commerce and Financial Services
  • Ben Husch | 202-624-7779 | Natural Resources and Infrastructure 
  • Jon Jukuri  | 202-624-8663 | Labor, Economic Development and International Trade
  • Haley Nicholson | 202-624-8662 | Health and Human Services
  • Austin Reid | 202-624-8678 | Education