COVID-19 Update | Friday, Aug. 21
August 21, 2020
Both the House and the Senate are in recess.
· As of this writing, there has been no progress on COVID-19 negotiations.
· The Blue Dog Coalition, a caucus of Democratic Representatives who identify as fiscally responsible and centrist, urged Congressional leadership to relaunch COVID-19 relief talks in a letter, arguing that there is “considerable common ground” between what House Democrats and Senate Republicans have proposed for the next response package.
o The letter stated that the “current stalemate is punishing families and destabilizing our economy,” and that “we must keep negotiating, no matter how difficult. Inaction is not an option.”
o A full press release on the letter from the Blue Dog Coalition can be found here.
o As a reminder, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has faced increasing calls for additional action on COVID-19 relief from inside her own caucus.
· On Thursday, Speaker Pelosi addressed her caucus in a Dear Colleague letter rejecting calls for votes on legislation that would automatically extend unemployment benefits. Speaker Pelosi specifically invoked the HEROES Act in calling for her caucus to consider timing and strategic value of separate proposals.
· Both the House and Senate will hold hearings featuring testimony from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy as Congress continues to focus on recent concerns surrounding delays in U.S. Postal Service (USPS) operations and changes that DeJoy has implemented since taking control of the USPS.
o The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing today on “Examining the Finances and Operations of the United States Postal Service During COVID-19 and Upcoming Elections.”
o The House Oversight and Reform Committee will hold a hearing with DeJoy on Monday.
· Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Tina Smith (D-MN) sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requesting that the agencies release guidance for colleges and universities to report COVID-19 outbreaks.
o As a reminder, multiple large universities, including the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Notre Dame, and Michigan State University have already suspended in-person instruction for either part, or all of the fall semester after beginning classes in person.
· As a follow-up to a call they had on Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sent a letter to USPS Postmaster General Louis DeJoy asking for more details on the operational changes that DeJoy announced on Tuesday would be put on hold.
· Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) announced on Thursday that he tested positive for COVID-19.
o Cassidy is the second Senator to test positive for COVID-19, the first being Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Unlike the House, the Senate has yet to adopt any face covering requirement, though many Senators and their staff do voluntarily wear masks.
· The House plans on voting on a $25B USPS emergency funding bill, the Delivering for America Act (H.R. 8015) on Saturday. The bill, which was introduced on August 11 by Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), has 157 cosponsors, only one of whom is a Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA). The legislation is expected to pass the House. Senate action on this bill is unlikely, although funding for the USPS was a part of legislation Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) pursued earlier in the week.
· Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-CA) and Katie Porter (D-CA) sent a letter to John Barger of the USPS Board of Governors, which asked if Barger recommended Louis DeJoy to be USPS Postmaster General for politically motivated reasons.
· 31 House Democrats, led by Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA) sent a letter to the CEOs of 11 U.S. large and medium-sized airlines expressing concerns over the existing patchwork of health policies that have been implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter calls on the airlines to implement industry-wide policies.
o The letter comes amid reports that airlines and others in the aviation industry, including pilots and flight attendants, are pushing Congress hard for additional relief. Specifically, they are pushing for an extension of the Payroll Support Program (PSP) created by the CARES Act and industry representatives warned that without an extension, the industry would likely face wide-ranging layoffs and service reductions.
o As a reminder, a number of regional airlines have already ceased or are in the process of ceasing operations due to the pandemic. To date that includes Compass Airlines, Trans States Airlines and RavnAir Group, while ExpressJet is winding down and expected to cease operations by the end of the year.
- The Labor Department reported that new jobless claims for the week that ended on August 15 were 1.1M, an increase of 135K from the previous week.
- On Wednesday afternoon, Larry Kudlow, the Director of the National Economic Council (NEC), told reporters that the White House is considering giving people years, potentially up to eight, to pay back taxes that are deferred under President Trump’s recent Executive Order on payroll tax deferral.
- As a reminder, on Wednesday we reported that a coalition of business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Senate Majority Leader McConnell, and House Speaker Pelosi warning that many employers won’t participate in President Trump’s payroll tax deferral plan, saying that it is unworkable.
- The Trump Administration signaled that U.S. companies can continue to use the WeChat messaging app in China, according to several people familiar with the matter, two weeks after President Donald Trump ordered a U.S. ban on the service.
- According to reports, the Administration is “still working through the technical implications of how to enforce such a partial ban on the app, which is owned by Tencent Holdings Ltd., one of China’s biggest companies” and that a “key question is whether the White House would allow Apple Inc. and Google to carry the app in its global app stores outside of the U.S.”
- Assistant Secretary of HHS for Health, Admiral Brett Giroir revised his previous statements that the U.S. should have the capacity to test 90M people per month for COVID-19 beginning in September. Last month, Giroir had predicted 100M monthly tests by September. Of those 90M tests that may become available, 40M will be “point-of-care” tests that can be analyzed in hospitals and doctors’ offices, he said in a media briefing.
- According to published reports, HHS is returning the responsibility for collecting and maintaining COVID-19 data to the CDC.
- As a reminder, on July 16, Elevate reported that HHS ordered that hospital data on COVID-19 patients would be sent to a central HHS database instead of to the CDC.
- The Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a new report that found that 75% of planned maintenance periods were completed late for aircraft carriers and submarines in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015-2019, with an average delay of 113 days for carriers and 225 days for submarines.
- The State Department announced on Wednesday that it will suspend or terminate three bilateral agreements with Hong Kong. These agreements cover extradition and tax exemptions.
- According to new data from the Energy Information Administration, refiners supplied 17M barrels of fuel per day in the week ending on August 14. These numbers represent an 11% decrease over the previous week and the lowest level since May.
- According to published reports, Chinese and U.S. officials will continue to discuss the terms of the Phase One deal in the next week over teleconference.
- The National Park Service (NPS) announced $12.8M in Save America’s Treasures grants to fund 42 preservation and conservation projects in 26 states.
- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released its notice of inquiry for its annual broadband report for next year. Public comments will be due September 18. The 2020 Broadband Deployment report was published on June 8.
- At the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) symposium, FAA officials noted that they are looking to authorize more drone operators to fly in “zero grid” restricted airspace around airports but must first figure out how to mitigate safety and security concerns.
- The FAA announced that it plans to evaluate technologies and systems that could detect and mitigate potential safety risks posed by unmanned aircraft. The effort will be part of the agency’s Airport Unmanned Aircraft Systems Detection and Mitigation Research Program.
- Interested manufacturers, vendors, and integrators of drone detection and/or mitigation technologies/systems will have 45 days to respond to the FAA’s announcement.
- Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao announced that the FAA is awarding $7.5M in research, education and training grants to universities that are members of the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE).
- The Department of Energy granted Alaska LNG a license to export liquefied natural gas (LNG). The project has been dormant amid trade tensions between the U.S. and China, but the license would allow for 2.55B cubic feet of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) to be shipped from the Nikiski area of the Kenai Peninsula over a 30-year period.
- Federal Register Notices – please see below.
- According to statistics from the U.S. Travel Association, travel spending increased 5% last week for its fifth consecutive week of expansion. However, spending last week was still down 44% compared to last year.
- A new pandemic record 863,000 passengers passed through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints this past Sunday. However, as the high summer travel period nears its end, these numbers may decrease again and further depict the continuing struggles faced by the travel industry due to the pandemic.
- Road travel remained roughly at pre-pandemic levels and was down 0.5% compared to February 2020. This is an improvement over lows from April but still represents a decrease compared to normal summer peaks.
- California’s 1st Circuit Court of Appeals granted the requests of Uber and Lyft for a stay on an injunction that would have forced the ride-sharing companies to reclassify their drivers as employees rather than independent contractors, which would have let the two companies to halt operations in California rather than comply.
- As a reminder, earlier this week Elevate reported that San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo (D) and San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer (R) issued a joint statement asking the California Court of Appeals to stay the injunction that Uber and Lyft are facing, which would require the ride-sharing companies to reclassify their drivers.
- Earlier this month we reported that San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman decided to grant the State of California’s request for an injunction on Uber and Lyft to stop classifying its drivers as independent contractors. This order is a result of California’s state government passing a law (A.B. 5) which required “workers to be treated as employees.” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and city attorneys subsequently sued the ride-sharing companies this year, arguing they were violating the law by continuing to classify drivers as independent contractors.
- Last week, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi threatened to halt services in California until November unless the company successfully appeals a ruling that Uber must treat drivers as employees instead of independent contractors
- The American Trucking Associations (ATA) is creating the Moving & Storage Conference under its umbrella, as well as the Moving & Storage Council. The transition is being managed jointly by leaders from ATA and the American Moving and Storage Association.
- The Business Aviation Coalition for Sustainable Aviation Fuel released a new guide that outlines ways in which industry leaders can use sustainable aviation fuel in their operations.
- The Inspector General of Amtrak found that the expansion of New York’s Penn Station into the future Moynihan Train Hall has accrued unexpected additional costs and delays, due to lackluster oversight and inexperienced staff. The report notes that since the program for expanding Penn Station began in 2017, Amtrak has requested an additional $72.8M due to the aforementioned issues.
- With New Jersey facing a potential budget crisis due to COVID-19 (the state only has $400M in its emergency fund), a group of more than 100 economists from Princeton, Rutgers, and other New Jersey colleges sent a letter to Governor Phil Murphy (D) and the state’s legislative leadership urging that in order to try to balance the budget, they consider increasing taxes slightly instead of cutting essential services.
- Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) signed an Executive Order Wednesday which will set a goal of cutting 26%-28% of emissions in the state by 2025 and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The full text of the order can be found here.
- AARP sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin urging the Administration to consider alternatives to the payroll tax deferral enacted by Executive Order earlier this month. Specifically, the group highlighted that the deferral of payroll taxes could undermine the long-term viability of Social Security.
Federal Register Notices:
- The FCC issued a final rule which adopts a tier-based leased access rate calculation as part of its Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative. This rule is effective September 21. The notice can be found here.
- The FCC announced that the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, on July 10, 2020, in coordination with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, executed the Second Amendment to Nationwide Programmatic Agreement for the Collocation of Wireless Antennas to facilitate the collocation of wireless facilities on existing towers under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The notice can be found here.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a notice to temporarily extend the amendments to certain regulations regarding temporary and seasonal agricultural workers, and their U.S. employers, within the H-2A nonimmigrant classification. This final rule is effective from August 19, 2020 through August 19, 2023. Employers may request the flexibilities under this rule by filing an H-2A petition through December 17. The notice can be found here.
- The Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), within the Department of Commerce, issued a final rule that Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. (Huawei) and a number of non-U.S. affiliates have been placed on the Entity List. In order to further address the continuing threat to U.S. national security and foreign policy interests posed by Huawei and its non-U.S. affiliates, BIS in this final rule is making three sets of changes to controls for Huawei and its listed non-U.S. affiliates under the Export Administration Regulations (EAR). The rule was effective August 17. The notice can be found here.
- DOT’s Office of the Secretary announced that it would be extending the waiting period for American Airlines and JetBlue Airways, who have submitted cooperative agreements, including code-sharing and alliance agreements. The statute requires such joint venture agreements between major U.S. passenger airlines to be submitted to the Department at least 30 days before the agreements may take effect and authorizes the Department to extend the waiting period for these agreements beyond the initial 30-day period. The extension will be for an additional 90 days, meaning the waiting period will now expire on November 19. The notice can be found here.
- The International Trade Administration announced a meeting of the U.S. Investment Advisory Council. The meeting will be held September 10.
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a notice and request for comments on a request for approval of a new information collection regarding research to learn about drivers’ use of and behavior in interacting with certain advanced driver assistance technologies (ADAS).
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection released notices of extending the temporary border closures, except for essential travel, between the U.S. for Mexico and Canada, until September 21 at 11:59pm.