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What is Congress Doing to Respond to COVID-19?

FIRST LEGISLATIVE RESPONSE TO COVID-19: A $8.3 billion emergency coronavirus spending package was enacted into law on March 6. Maine has received $4.6 million dollars in CDC Public Health Emergency Preparedness funds through this funding bill. Grantees will be eligible to apply for further assistance from the remaining $350 million designated specifically for state and local funding. More info here.

SECOND LEGISLATIVE RESPONSE TO COVID-19 (Families First): On March 14, H.R. 6201 The Families First Coronavirus Response Act overwhelmingly passed the US House with bipartisan support. President Trump signed this bill into law on March 18. This coronavirus response legislation will make coronavirus testing free for most patients, secure paid emergency leave, enhance unemployment insurance, strengthen food security initiatives, and increase federal Medicaid funding to states. The text of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, H.R. 6201, is here. A summary of H.R. 6201 is here

THIRD LEGISLATIVE RESPONSE TO COVID-19 (CARES Act): On March 27, President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, legislation to provide economic relief to workers and small businesses across our nation. The legislation includes, among other things:

  • A one-time cash payment of $1,200 for each individual adult earning up to $75,000 per year, with an additional $500 per child. 
  • Expanded unemployment insurance, including for part-time, self-employed, or gig economy workers. 
  • Forgivable loans for 8 weeks of payroll for employers with fewer than 500 employees, including a reduction in forgiveness if the company reduces employees or pay
  • Requirement for private insurers and Medicare to cover coronavirus prevention and treatment
  • Expanded healthcare access for veterans
  • Funding to support hospitals and healthcare workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic
  • Stabilization funds to support elementary and secondary school systems as well as higher education institutions, including support for the transition to remote learning and funds to support those with student loans
INTERIM LEGISLATIVE RESPONSE TO COVID-19: The Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act expands COVID-19 testing and deliver billions in critical aid to health care providers and small businesses. In the bill, a bipartisan agreement was reached to provide $310 billion in additional funding for the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which thousands of Maine businesses have utilized. It also contains several key provisions added at the insistence of House and Senate Democrats, including:
  • $25 billion to expand COVID-19 testing and a requirement that the Secretary of Health and Human Services submit to Congress a COVID-19 Strategic Testing Plan no later than 21 days after enactment.
  • $75 billion for hospitals and other health care providers to recoup losses from the COVID-19 pandemic and help them purchase desperately needed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). 
  • $30 billion set-aside within PPP for small banks and credit unions and Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), to ensure that financial institutions in Maine and other smaller states are not squeezed out by big banks. 
  • $60 billion to replenish the SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program and allow more $10,000 emergency grants for small businesses.
  • Allowing small farmers to access the EIDL loan and grant programs.
THE HEROES ACT: On May 15, the House passed the Heroes Act, another comprehensive legislative packaged aimed at addressing many complex elements of the public health and economic effects of the coronavirus. The Heroes Act includes: 
  • $875 billion in state and local funding, including more than $5 billion for the State of Maine and its localities. A breakdown of municipal funding is available here.
  • $75 billion in funding to further national and state testing and contact tracing initiatives and $110 billion in funding for providers to keep their doors open
  • Extended Pandemic Unemployment benefits through January 2021
  • A second round of stimulus checks ($1,200 for a single filer and $2,400 for joint filers, in addition to $1,200 for dependents, for up to $6,000 per family); includes expanded eligibility for adult dependents and full-time students under age 24 as well as taxpayers with Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs); these changes would be made retroactive to the CARES Act and allow newly eligible dependents and taxpayers with ITINs to receive their $500 or $1,200 payment from the first round of stimulus payments
  • Help for small businesses by extending dates for payroll forgiveness and allowing more non-payroll costs to count, and reserving 25% of PPP funds for businesses with 10 or fewer employees
  • A 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits
  • A requirement for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to develop protections for frontline workers; pandemic premium pay of an additional $13 per hour for essential workers, up to $10,000
  • Free, no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail for every voter; $29 million in election aid for the State of Maine
  • $25 billion to preserve the United States Postal Service
  • Over $100 billion in support for education, including for K-12 schools, higher education institutions, and early childhood education providers, including $1.5 billion to close the “homework gap” by providing funding for Wi-Fi hotspots to students without reliable internet access and $4 billion for emergency home connectivity during distance learning
  • $16.5 billion in direct assistance to farmers and $100 million in relief funds for American fisheries
  • $50 million for the Local Agriculture Market Program, known as LAMP
LEGISLATION TO FIX THE PAYCHECK PROTECTION PROGRAM (H.R. 7010): The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was drafted to support small businesses, but several provisions made it inaccessible for small businesses, seasonal businesses, and nonprofits. H.R. 7010 would allow for flexibility in PPP, including:
  • Allowing small businesses to claim payroll forgiveness under PPP loans over a 24 week period, rather than 8 weeks;
  • Extending the PPP loan coverage period through December 31, 2020, rather than June 30;
  • Increasing the amount, to 40%, of non-payroll costs that can be counted for full loan forgiveness (Treasury/SBA imposed a limit of 25%);
  • Ensuring small businesses are still eligible for loan forgiveness if they can certify that they are unable to rehire workers in the prescribed timeframe; 
  • Ensuring full access to payroll tax deferment for businesses that take PPP loans; and
  • Extending loan terms from two years to five years.

  • for families’ health security: ensuring free coronavirus testing for everyone who needs a test, including the uninsured.  Our legislation also increases funding for Medicaid to support local, state, tribal and territorial health systems, so that they have the resources needed to combat this public health emergency.
  • for families’ economic security: providing two weeks of paid sick leave and up to three months of family and medical leave for eligible workers and enhancing Unemployment Insurance.  It also supports small businesses by fully reimbursing them for providing leave. 
  • for families’ food security: strengthening nutrition initiatives including SNAP, student meals, seniors’ meals and food banks.
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