As of March 20, 2020, two bills were passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This alert highlights some of the provisions in Congress’s multiphase response to the COVID-19 outbreak that may benefit our nation’s small businesses, non-profit organizations and vulnerable individuals who need access to adequate care and assistance during this public health crisis.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201)
The provisions of H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“Families First Act”), is expected to benefit the American people and vulnerable populations in a number of ways. Its provisions are intended to bolster the capacity of the health care system, provide $100 billion in worker assistance, including emergency paid sick leave, food assistance and unemployment payments.
Nutrition and Food Assistance
- The Families First Act provides $500 million for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and $400 million for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).
- The Act allows waivers to requirements for school meal programs in the case that a school is closed for at least five consecutive school days for schools attended by an “eligible child” who would otherwise receive a free or reduced-price lunch.
- The Act expands several food assistance benefits, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It notably suspends the work requirements for SNAP and allows states to request waivers to provide certain emergency SNAP benefits.
- The Act includes $250 million for the Senior Nutrition Program in the Administration for Community Living (ACL), which provides home-delivered and pre-packaged meals to low-income seniors, including those with chronic illnesses and disabilities. ACL’s Senior Nutrition grants are provided to states, territories and eligible tribal organizations and serve more than 2.4 million individuals annually.
Paid Sick Leave
- The Families First Act requires employers to provide paid sick leave to employees. It contains several provisions relating to paid sick leave including a requirement that employees first take 10 days of unpaid leave and special provisions for companies with 50 or fewer employees.
- The Act provides for employees of companies with less than 500 employees to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act and requires that 10 of these 12 weeks be paid at no less than two-thirds the usual pay. Employees must also have been on a company’s payroll for at least 30 days.
- The Act allows employees directly affected by the virus either due to a diagnosis of COVID-19 or caring for a family member or child who is self-isolating must be provided with 2 weeks (80 hours) of paid leave.
- The Families First Act would require private insurance plans, Medicare Advantage, TRICARE, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the Indian Health Service and Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to cover diagnostic testing at no cost to patients, including a provider visit to receive the testing. Medicare Part B already covers the cost of testing; the Act would require the program to cover beneficiary cost-sharing for the provider visit.
- The Act also permits states to extend Medicaid eligibility to uninsured populations for the purposes of COVID-19 testing. State Medicaid costs for associated medical and administrative expenditures would be matched fully by the federal government.
Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 (H.R. 6074)
The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act delivered $8.3 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations. Highlighted below are key provisions that expanded disaster relief to small businesses and private, nonprofit organizations and bolstered telehealth services.
Small Businesses and Non-profit Organizations
On March 12, the Small Business Administration (SBA) announced that it will collaborate directly with state governors to provide targeted, low-interest federal disaster recovery loans to small businesses that have been severely impacted by COVID-19. The SBA received $20 million in federal funding to administer Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs), which offer up to $2 million in assistance for small businesses and private, nonprofit organizations in designated areas of a state or territory. The SBA anticipates a significant increase in loans in the coming months.
To help alleviate economic injury caused by the current public health crisis, the loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable, and other bills that cannot be paid because of the current public health situation. The interest rate is 3.75 percent for small businesses and the interest rate for non-profits is 2.75 percent with a maximum repayment length of 30 years in order to keep payments affordable.
Following the agency’s initial announcement, the SBA provided an update on March 17, declaring that it is relaxing the criteria through which states or territories may formally request an economic injury declaration, effective immediately. Once an economic injury declaration has been made in a state or territory, affected small businesses within the state or territory can apply for a disaster assistance loan. The SBA has responded quickly to the needs of Americans by designating many areas across the country as eligible for SBA disaster loans.
H.R. 6074 allows the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) waive certain Medicare telehealth restrictions during the COVID-19 public health emergency. These waivers would allow Medicare providers to furnish telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries regardless of whether the beneficiary is in a rural community. This provision would also allow beneficiaries to receive care from physicians and other practitioners in their homes. This provision is estimated to cost $500 million.
This is significant because enrollees in Medicare Advantage plans that include coverage of such services may be available to receive clinically appropriate services for treatment of COVID-19 via telehealth from many sites, including their home.
U.S. Small Business Administration
Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services
- Summary of CMS Public Health Action on COVID-19 to Date
- Coverage and Payment Related to COVID-19 Medicare
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