COVID-19 Update | Thursday, April 30
April 30, 2020
- The Senate is still set to return Monday with a vote scheduled for Monday evening to confirm the Inspector General of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
- Senate Democrats have expressed concern about returning Monday without a focus on COVID-19 related legislation and oversight rather than judicial and executive nominees.
- Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) specifically have voiced concerns over returning. Senators have also expressed concerns over the lack of information and guidance on how the Senate will operate to avoid COVID exposure.
- The Senate Commerce Committee scheduled a hearing next Wednesday on the current status of the aviation industry and challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Committee announced the following witnesses, which are subject to change:
- Eric Fanning, President and Chief Executive Officer, Aerospace Industries Association
- Nicholas Calio, President and Chief Executive Officer, Airlines for America
- Todd Hauptli, President and Chief Executive Officer, American Association of Airport Executives
- The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to hold a confirmation hearing for Justin Walker next week, a nominee for the D.C. Court of Appeals.
- The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a hearing on Rep. John Ratcliffe’s nomination to become Director of National Intelligence.
- Four Senate Commerce Committee Republicans, Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS), Senator John Thune (R-SD), Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) announced that they would introduce COVID-19 related privacy legislation to force companies to obtain consent from users to collect or deploy their personal information to track the spread of COVID-19. Discussions around a general privacy bill have come to a stop as the COVID-19 crisis commanded legislative attention.
- Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), along with Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) announced a proposal today to provide $4B to the Federal Communications Commission’s E-rate program to help students with remote learning. This is double the initial estimate of $2B.
- A bipartisan group of 11 senators, led by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging the Administration to advocate with the Mexican government to change its definition of essential business to include components for medical, food, and other critical goods. The full letter can be found here.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she plans to bring the House back in two weeks.
- Speaker Pelosi indicated that state and local governments may need up to $1 trillion in additional relief. This is higher than the original request by the National Governors’ Association of $500B recently.
- In a statement issued yesterday, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) asserted that infrastructure spending was the best way to help stimulate the economy, signaling a clear-cut need for stimulus spending. His statement appeared to be a response to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s comments opposing infrastructure funding in the next COVID-19 relief packages.
- House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) have consolidated Democratic broadband internet requests under a Rural Broadband Task Force to move them into the upcoming COVID-19 relief packages. The priorities include:
- $80B in broadband internet investment and creating a new internet connectivity office within the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
- Provisions on affordability and adoption of broadband and includes earlier legislation such as the Digital Equity Act, which calls for NTIA to establish a grant program to foster such connectivity. It would authorize subsidy funding to support Wi-Fi connections on school buses.
- House lawmakers on the Homeland Security Committee plan to introduce multiple pieces of legislation seeking to include additional workplace protections for Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers for inclusion in the next COVID-19 relief package. Details are limited to date, however:
- One of the bills would reverse TSA’s move last year to stop paying a full share of health care premiums for part-time employees;
- Another calls for hazardous duty pay for frontline employees, including TSA agents; and
- A third would provide a “presumption of workplace causation” for TSA employees who have regular contact with the public.
- In his call with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Steven Dickson last night, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) emphasized the need for airline passengers to wear masks and for airlines to properly space passengers.
- Separately, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar asking for them to issue a rule requiring masks onboard planes. The full letter can be found here.
- A group of 126 lawmakers sent a letter to House leadership advocating for Paycheck Protection Program rule changes to allow local news stations that previously did not qualify for the program to receive funds. The news industry has been hard hit by the pandemic due to dramatically reduced ad revenue. The full letter can be found here.
- The Trump Administration is considering providing 1-year extensions for some China tariff exclusions to help provide some relief to US businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- President Trump plans to travel to Phoenix next Tuesday to visit a Honeywell facility that produces face masks, marking his first trip outside of Washington in a month. We anticipate further high-profile trips, signaling that the Country is ready to begin a phased re-opening.
- Vice President Pence continues to be on the road, highlighting the Administration’s plan to increase its visible travel. In recent days, he has traveled to the Mayo Clinic where he received criticism for not wearing a mask, a General Motors factory in Indiana today and, in past weeks, a General Electric healthcare facility and the Air Force Academy graduation.
- The Federal Reserve expanded the scope and eligibility of the Main Street Lending Program today, including:
- Creating a third loan option, where borrowers retain a 15 percent share on loans that, when added to existing debt, do not exceed six times a borrower’s income;
- Lowering the minimum loan size for “new” and “priority” loans to $500,000; and
- Making companies with up to 15,000 employees, or up to $5B in annual revenue, eligible.
- The Federal Reserve also expanded access to the Paycheck Protection Program Liquidity Facility (PPPLF) to include all SBA-approved institutions, now including non-depository institutions. Additionally, eligible borrowers will be able to pledge whole PPP loans that they have purchased as collateral to the PPPLF. The full notice can be found here.
- The Trump Administration, as part of its efforts to crack down on foreign counterfeit goods, is exploring possible changes to the US “de minimis” threshold that allows low-value shipments to enter the United States without paying import duties. Congress raised the de minimis threshold from $200 to $800 in 2016, which means that most goods valued at $800 or less enter the US duty-free.
- The FAA released a special federal aviation regulation on Wednesday that provides exemptions for pilots and other crewmembers “who have been unable to comply with certain training, testing, and checking requirements due to COVID-19”, as well as to pilot schools that are unable to meet federal requirements.
- The Department of Transportation (DOT) granted American Airlines minimum service exemptions for three locations in Hawaii, and seasonal exemptions from Anchorage, AK, Kalispell, MT, and Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, MA. DOT denied exemption requests for Vail, Aspen and Montrose, CO, as well as Jackson, WY.
- US Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao announced today that the FAA will award $1.187 billion in airport safety and infrastructure grants. The total includes $731 million in Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants and an additional $455 million in Supplemental Discretionary grants. The money will be available for 100 percent of the eligible costs under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. More information can be found here.
- The FAA plans to hold a virtual town hall next Thursday on “Aviation Safety” with commercial aviation stakeholders from 1:00-3:00pm EDT. Discussion topics will include the adaptation of the aviation industry and its safety processes in the current and rapidly changing environment. The event is also an opportunity for government/industry collaboration on safety and for the sharing of best practices. FAA Administrator Steve Dickson and leadership from across the commercial aviation industry plan to participate.
- Delta and American Airlines both announced today that they will require passengers to wear masks. Delta specifically announced that passengers will have to wear masks beginning at check-in.
- 3.8 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, bringing the total to 30 million unemployed since the beginning of the COVID-19 response.
- Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard has signaled that the country will not move to reopen closed factories, even amid pressure from US Ambassador to Mexico and businesses with supply chains in the region.
- Governor of New Jersey Phil Murphy lobbied President Trump for federal aid adding up to billions of dollars in a personal meeting at the White House today.