December 23, 2020 Edition

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.

Newsom Names Padilla U.S. Senator, Weber Secretary of State

On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced his selection of California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to be the next United States Senator from California, filling the term being vacated by Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris. Padilla was first sworn in as California’s Secretary of State in January 2015 after serving in the California State Senate and as a member of the Los Angeles City Council. Padilla is set to become the first Latino U.S. Senator from California.

To fill the vacancy being created by Padilla’s appointment to the U.S. Senate, Governor Newsom also on Tuesday announced his intent to nominate Assembly Member Dr. Shirley Weber as the next California Secretary of State. Weber has served in the California State Assembly since 2012 and is the former President of the San Diego Board of Education. Weber was previously a professor at San Diego State University for 40 years. Additionally, Weber has served as the Chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus and will be the first African American Secretary of State in California history. Weber’s nomination must be reviewed and confirmed by the California Legislature.

The announcement of Secretary Padilla’s appointment is available here. The announcement of Assembly Member Weber’s nomination is available here.

Federal Government Purchases 100 Million Additional COVID-19 Vaccines

Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Defense (DOD) announced the federal government will purchase an additional 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer. Under the agreement, Pfizer will manufacture and deliver up to 100 million doses of its SARS-CoV-2 vaccine to government designated locations. Pfizer must deliver at least 70 million doses by June 30, 2021, with the balance of the 100 million doses to be delivered no later than July 31, 2021.

The latest order of vaccines builds upon the first 100 million doses of vaccine contracted earlier this year. The agreement announced today also includes options for an additional 400 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The U.S. government and Pfizer are expected to continue discussing potential approaches to expand output and accelerate vaccine production.

The full HHS press announcement is available here.

CDC Announces One Million Have Received First COVID-19 Vaccine Dose

Today, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield announced the U.S. jurisdictions have now reported that more than one million people have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine since administration began 10 days ago.

During a press conference today, California Governor Gavin Newsom indicated nearly 130,000 Californians have received the vaccine through yesterday.

The full press statement from the CDC is available here.

CDPH Extends Limited Stay-at-Home Order

This week, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issued a supplement to its State Public Health Officer Order requiring non-essential work, movement, and gatherings to cease between 10:00 pm and 5:00 am in Tier 1 (Purple/Widespread) counties. Recall, the state issued its limited stay-at-home order in mid-November amid rapidly increasing COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

This week’s supplemental order extends the limited stay-at-home order until after the state’s regional stay-at-home order has terminated in all regions of the state. The limited stay-at-home order additionally applies to any jurisdiction that is either under a regional stay-at-home order or in Tier 1 (Purple/Widespread) of the Blueprint for a Safer Economy. The supplemental order goes into effect at 10:00 pm on Wednesday, December 23.

The supplemental order is available here.

COVID-19 Variant Reported in U.K., CDPH Issues Health Alert

Reports recently emerged about a new variant of the COVID-19 virus spreading rapidly in the United Kingdom. According to the U.K. government, the new virus variant appears to transmit more easily than the previous COVID-19 strain, but no evidence exists indicating the new variant causes more severe disease or mortality.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that new virus variant detected in the U.K. and other parts of the country have not been identified in the U.S. at this time. However, epidemiological surveillance is ongoing at federal and state levels.

In light of the new virus variant, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) on Tuesday issued a health alert to clinicians statewide requesting health care providers to collect specimens from specified patients for genetic sequencing to monitor for the COVID-19 variant and other variant virus strains.

Additional information on the virus variant is anticipated over the coming days and weeks.

TFAH Issues COVID-19 Vaccine Policy Brief

This week, the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) issued a policy brief on the COVID-19 vaccine entitled, “Building Trust in and Access to a COVID-19 Vaccine Among People of Color and Tribal Nations.” The policy brief follows a convening this fall among 40 leading health equity, healthcare, civil rights, and public health organizations. The purpose of the convening was to advise policymakers on the barriers to vaccine receptivity within communities of color and tribal communities and how to overcome those barriers.

The TFAH policy brief provides background on historic maltreatment of communities of color and tribal nations by government and the health sector, as well as present day marginalization of those communities by the healthcare system. The brief sets forth recommended policy actions within six key areas:

  • Ensure that scientific fidelity of the vaccine development process.
  • Equip trusted community organizations and networks within communities of color and tribal nations to participate in vaccination planning, education, delivery, and administration. Ensure their meaningful engagement and participation by providing funding.
  • Provide communities the information they need to understand the vaccine, make informed decisions, and deliver messages through trusted messengers and pathways.
  • Ensure that it is as easy as possible for people to be vaccinated. Vaccines must be delivered in community settings that are trusted, safe, and accessible.
  • Ensure complete coverage of the costs associated with the vaccine incurred by individuals, providers of the vaccine, and state/local/tribal/territorial governments responsible for administering the vaccine and communicating with their communities about it.
  • Congress must provide additional funding and require disaggregated data collection and reporting by age, race, ethnicity, gender identity, primary language, disability status, and other demographic factors on vaccine trust and acceptance, access, vaccination rates, adverse experiences, and ongoing health outcomes.

The full TFAH policy brief is available here.