Congress Passes $2.3 Trillion Spending and COVID-19 Relief Measure, Awaits President’s Signature

On Monday after months of stalled negotiations, Congress passed a sweeping $2.3 trillion spending measure containing $1.4 trillion in governmental appropriations for fiscal year 2021, as well as $900 billion in additional COVID-19 relief. Over the weekend, Congressional leaders broke the stalemate, ultimately leading to the spending bill’s passage in both chambers of Congress on a bipartisan basis. In the House, the measure passed on a 359-53 vote, and in the Senate, the measure passed on a 92-6 vote.

Notably, the measure does not provide additional flexible and direct aid to states and local governments. However, the measure includes a number of key provisions of particular interest to local health departments, including an extension of the deadline for jurisdictions to spend CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) until December 31, 2021.

Additionally, the measure provides $8.75 billion in new funding to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to assist in COVID-19 vaccine development and distribution. Of this amount, $4.5 billion will be made available in the form of direct grants to states and localities under the Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) cooperative agreement formula. $300 million is directed to high-risk and underserved populations, including racial and ethnic minority populations and rural communities, through new or existing grants.

The measure also provides $22.4 billion for ongoing COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and mitigation efforts. Of this amount, approximately $21.6 billion would be available for direct grants to states, localities, and territories under the PHEP cooperative agreement formula. An additional $2.5 billion is dedicated for high-risk and underserved populations to improve testing and contact tracing capacities.

Other items of note include:

  • $3 billion in funding to the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) to support hospitals and healthcare providers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Extension of all pandemic unemployment programs by 11 weeks and the federal supplemental unemployment insurance benefits by $300 per week through mid-March 2021
  • $325 million for small business support, including $284 million for Payment Protection Program (PPP) loans for small businesses
  • A temporary 15 percent increase in monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for all participants between January 1, 2021, and June 30, 2021
  • A combined $13 billion in emergency assistance for SNAP and other federal nutrition programs
  • $600 one-time Economic Impact Payments to individuals earning less than $75,000 annually, $1,200 for couples earning less than $150,000 annually, and an additional $600 per child
  • $25 billion emergency federal rental assistance program; funds will be distributed to states and localities with populations of 200,000 or more and each state will receive a minimum of $200 million
  • $3.2 billion to the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund
  • $45 billion for transportation, including funds for highways, transit, and airports

The massive spending measure now rests with President Donald Trump. It remains unclear how President Trump will act on the spending bill after he released a recorded statement calling the measure “a disgrace” and demanding increases in the amounts of Economic Impact Payments to Americans. Congressional Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, signaled a willingness to increase the amount of direct payments to Americans, though the same willingness was not shared by Congressional Republicans. With the president’s statements and a government shutdown looming on December 28, the desperately needed funding risks being further delayed.

A full analysis of the Congressional spending measure from the National Association of Counties (NACo) is available here.