Congress, President Move Quickly on Emergency Aid to Combat Coronavirus
The following update was authored by Blaire Bryant and Valerie Brankovic and published by NACo on Friday, March 6, 2020.
This week, congressional legislators moved quickly to pass bipartisan legislation to combat the surging coronavirus epidemic in the United States in an aid package totaling $8.3 billion. On March 5, the U.S. Senate approved the bill by an 96-1 vote one day after U.S. House legislators voted to approve the measure by a margin of 415-2. President Trump signed the funding bill on Friday, March 6.
The emergency supplemental includes comprehensive resources to enhance the national response to coronavirus, as well as key provisions to support state and local efforts to address cases of the illness. As passed, the legislation specifically includes:
$2.2 billion in public health funding to support prevention, preparedness and response efforts, including a $1 billion set-aside for State and Local Preparedness Grants to support states, cities and tribes, half of which will be distributed within 30 days. Each state will receive no less than $4 million.
Approximately $3 billion in funding for research and development of coronavirus vaccines and diagnostic tools;
$100 million in supplemental appropriations for Community Health Centers (CHC) – a key priority for counties as health safety-net providers;
A provision that waives certain telehealth requirements during the coronavirus public health emergency to allow Medicare providers to administer telehealth services to elderly patients, who are at greater risk of contracting the illness; and
$20 million for the Small Business Administration (SBA) to assist businesses affected by the outbreak.
Congress’ and the White House’s swift response to the crisis follows NACo members’ approval of an interim policy resolution during the 2020 Legislative Conference that urged legislators to dedicate new resources to address the crisis. The resolution text can be viewed at this link.
NACo members received a special briefing during the conference from representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on how counties can enhance local readiness to address the virus. CDC’s Chief Medical Examiner Mitch Wolfe indicated the CDC is working closely with health departments to assess local readiness for the virus, adding that counties and states are encouraged to review their pandemic preparedness plans.