Capitol to Capitol | May 11, 2020

5/11/2020

This week the House is expected to release its next and more than likely last significant phase of coronavirus (COVID-19) relief measures. NCSL continues to advocate for additional flexible funds to states while engaging with federal agencies, congressional staff and other state/local organizations.

Flexible State Funds Still Considered as House Works on Next Virus Relief Measure

While the House had hoped to release its next measure of COVID-19 relief last week, negotiations continue this week in efforts to iron out differences in priorities and spending figures for what is expected to be a multitrillion-dollar package. Details regarding the contents of the expected proposal are still nebulous, but in addition to reported considerations of $500 billion to $1 trillion more resources to states, Democrats have felt pressure to provide more generous monthly unemployment payments, student loan forgiveness, and some form of rent relief. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also endorsed economic “stabilizers,” which would continue to fund relief programs without requiring Congress to supply additional appropriations, but it is unclear whether this option will be part of the bill being drafted. Meanwhile, the Senate has released two bills that would allow for the $150 billion provided to states in the Coronavirus Relief Fund enacted in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to be used to address expected revenue gaps. These measures would apply retroactively to the 15% to 20% revenue shortfalls budget experts in statehouses and economists across the country continue to observe due to the shutdown of the economy. The outlook of these bills is uncertain as is their potential overall impact on current requests from state and local governments for additional, flexible funding to combat the economic and health effects of the pandemic.

NCSL Contact: Erlinda Doherty

Lawmakers Announce Plan to Introduce A Privacy Data Bill

A bill proposed in the Senate reflects a renewed push for federal privacy legislation. The COVID-19 Consumer Data Protection Act focuses on location data tracing and would require companies to obtain consent to collect or transfer data, allow users to opt out of data tracing, and delete or de-identify information after the pandemic. Proponents may try to include the proposal in one of the upcoming stimulus packages.

NCSL Contacts: Abbie Gruwell and Tres York

Senate Hearing: “The State of Broadband Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic”

The Senate Commerce Committee is holding a hearing Wednesday to examine the state of broadband during the COVID-19 pandemic. Members of the broadband industry will discuss initiatives led by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to expand and maintain high-speed broadband connections and discuss recent funding.

NCSL Contacts: Abbie Gruwell and Tres York

Health Programs Being Considered Exempt to Spending Caps

A bipartisan group of House appropriators support exempting critical heath program funds from budget caps established under the Budget Control Act, which would enable big increases in biomedical spending next year without requiring offsets to other programs. Congress has already appropriated hundreds of billions of dollars above the set caps in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the plan would allow for sustained increases for the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health agencies. The administration, however, is opposed to revising the discretionary limits set in the deal, which is a major barrier. Any changes to the Bipartisan Budget Act would require agreement from Congress and President Donald Trump.

NCSL Contacts: Erlinda Doherty (budget and revenue) Haley Nicholson and Margaret Wile (health and human services)

USDA Announces Additional Food Purchases to Reduce Waste

The U.S. Agriculture Department announced it will spend $470 million to buy surplus food amid the widespread disruption of the food supply chain as a result of COVID-19. The funds will be split between a range of commodities, including surplus dairy ($120 million), potatoes and turkey products ($50 million each) and strawberries ($35 million). Chicken, catfish, Alaska pollock, asparagus, sweet potatoes and orange juice are also among the commodity purchases outlined by the department. The purchases are in addition to those announced last month as part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). The CFAP included $300 million per month on produce, meat and dairy purchases, which will be assembled into variety boxes and sent to food banks.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth

Two Business Interruption Insurance Bills Introduced in the House

Two pieces of legislation allowing small businesses access to business interruption insurance in the event of a future national emergency have been introduced in the House. Most insurance policies do not include coverage of losses due to viruses or pandemics. Multiple states have also introduced similar legislation, some applying retroactively to COVID-19.  The federal legislation does not appear to be retroactive.

NCSL Contacts: Abbie Gruwell and Tres York

Title IX Sexual Misconduct in Education Final Regulation Released

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released a new Title IX rule for how K-12 schools and universities must handle allegations of sexual assault and harassment. The rule requires schools to use trained personnel to evaluate evidence to investigate and make decisions on complaints. When facing a complaint, every student must be given the right to written notice of allegations, the right to an advisor, and the right to submit, cross-examine and challenge evidence at a live or virtual hearing. The hearings are optional for K-12 schools. When making decisions, schools must select one of two standards of evidence: the “preponderance of the evidence” standard or the “clear and convincing evidence” standard.

Schools must respond to misconduct that occurs at events where the institution “exercised substantial control” over both the accused and the context where the misconduct occurred. For colleges, this include off-campus harassment at houses owned or under the control of school-sanctioned fraternities and sororities. The rule also expands the government’s definition of “sexual harassment” to include sexual assault, dating violence and stalking. Additionally, K-12 schools must respond promptly when any school employee has notice of sexual harassment. The regulations are in effect Aug. 14, 2020.

NCSL Contacts: Austin Reid and Jocelyn Salguero

Read the May 4 Capitol to Capitol.

Small Business Administration Allows Farmers to Apply for Agency Loans

The Small Business Administration (SBA) is reopening a disaster loan program specifically to farmers and ranchers who have been unable to obtain loans due to a backlog of small businesses seeking assistance from the federal government. “SBA will begin accepting new Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and EIDL Advance applications on a limited basis only to provide relief to U.S. agricultural businesses,” the agency posted online. The EIDL provides loans and up to $10,000 in advance to businesses with fewer than 500 employees that are losing revenue amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Congress in late April approved an extra $50 billion for the depleted program and included language ensuring that agricultural businesses qualified for loans. But because of the backlog of applicants who did not receive funding from the first round, the SBA wasn’t allowing any new applicants, meaning the newly eligible farm businesses were still locked out.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Lucia Bragg

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NCSL's Advocacy in Washington

NCSL's Washington staff advocate Congress, the White House and federal agencies on behalf of state legislatures 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