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Government Relations Update March 2020

Posted on Apr 09, 2020 by Matthew Hall
Tags: External Relations, Federal Government

Multi-Phase Coronavirus Responses Become Law

Since the beginning of March, Congress has passed three major pieces of legislation in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19), which the president has signed into law.  Below is a brief summary of these new laws.

The first law, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act (P.L. 116-123), provides $8.3 billion in funding to federal agencies tasked with aspects of planning, research, and response to COVID-19.  Funding highlights include:  $6.2 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services; $20 million for the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) disaster loans program; $1.6 billion for international response split between USAID ($986 million) and the State Department ($264 million).

The legislation also includes a waiver for Medicare providers, allowing them to provide telehealth services.
  
The second law, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (P.L. 116-127), addresses issues such as guaranteeing free coronavirus testing, establishing new emergency paid sick leave requirements, enhancing unemployment insurance, increasing Medicaid funding, and expanding food security initiatives.

The emergency paid sick leave provisions apply to employers of less than 500 people.  The legislation establishes 12 weeks of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) coverage with 10 weeks being paid at no less than two-thirds salary.  It also establishes 10 work days of paid sick leave for complications arising from COVID-19; employers must pay their employees their full salary for sick leave and two thirds salary for leave used to care for others.  The law also provides 100 percent tax credits for employers to offset the costs of paying for any FMLA or paid sick leave provided for under this provision.  These provisions are set to expire at the end of the year.
  
The most recent law, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (P.L. 116-136), provides $2.2 trillion of funding and addresses a wide range of issues, including giving support to large corporations, small businesses, and individuals, while also providing additional funding to federal agencies.

Under the law, the SBA is authorized to grant loans to businesses of less than 500 employees, which, pursuant to the terms of the acceptable use of these funds, ultimately may be forgiven by the SBA.  SBA loans under this Paycheck Protection Program may be used to cover:  (1) payroll costs, excluding the prorated portion of any compensation above $100,000 per year for any person; (2) costs related to the continuation of group health care benefits; (3) employee salaries; (4) payments of interest on any mortgage obligation that existed on February 15, 2020; (5) rent payment; (6) interest on any other debt obligations; and (7) utility payments.  The maximum loan amount under this program is 250 percent of average monthly payroll costs, up to a total of $10 million.  Applications are due by June 30, 2020.

Appropriations highlights in this law include:  $30.75 billion for the Department of Education; $99.5 million for the Office of Science at the Department of Energy; $75 million for Rapid Response Research Grants at the National Science Foundation; and $50 million at the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
 
The $31 billion for the Department of Education is divided into three pots and will be distributed to governors, state education agencies, and higher ed institutions.  $3 billion will go to the governors.  $13.5 billion is allocated to state education agencies that can be used at their discretion for education needs at any level in their state.  The remaining $14.25 billion will go straight to colleges and universities to directly address their needs.

The statute specifically states that funding may be used to defray technology costs associated with transitioning to online-only education.  However, colleges and universities must use at least 50 percent of any funds they receive “to provide emergency financial aid grants to students.”

White House Releases Report on National 5G Strategy 

The Administration has released a high level overview of its National Strategy to Secure 5G.  The report outlines four “lines of effort” to fulfill the goals of the National Cyber Strategy, which was released in September 2018. 

These efforts include:  (1) facilitating the rollout of 5G domestically; (2) assessing the cybersecurity risks to and identifying core security principles of 5G capabilities and infrastructure; (3) addressing risks to U.S. economic and national security during development and deployment of 5G infrastructure worldwide; and (4) promoting responsible global development and deployment of secure and reliable 5G infrastructure. 

While brief, this document is meant to represent a step towards a plan by the U.S. government to support the development of 5G networks across the country and around the world.

Commissioner O’Rielly Re-nominated for FCC Position

The president included Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Michael O’Rielly on a recent list of nominations sent to the Senate for approval.  If confirmed, O’Rielly would serve a new five-year term on the Commission, ending June 30, 2024.