Pardon Our Dust
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The coronavirus is impacting us all, both at home and at work. Given the fluid nature of information flowing at both the federal and state levels, McGuireWoods Consulting (MWC) is intent on providing our education clients minute-by-minute information to help make timely business decisions. As such, this memo attempts to distill the moving pieces and opportunities (and, frankly, the challenges) that are surfacing so that we can effectively communicate to colleagues internally and customers externally. There are three subsequent sections to this memo: (1) federal update, broadly; (2) federal update on education policy; and (3) status of state legislatures.
Federal Update, Broadly
There have been a number of federal actions to date dealing with how to combat the coronavirus, including:
$8.3 Billion Emergency Funding Bill
On March 5, Congress passed the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, an $8.3 billion emergency funding bill to aid the fight against the coronavirus. The Department of Health and Human Services received $6.5 billion and was tasked with meting out $1 billion to states, cities and tribes within 30 days to aid in the local response to coronavirus. Congress also ordered the department to use $3.1 billion on medical supplies, vaccine-making and assistance to the U.S. health system. The State Department received $1.3 billion, and the Small Business Administration received an extra $20 million to increase the number of loans that go to businesses affected by the coronavirus.
On March 13, the president declared a national emergency in relation to the coronavirus. The declaration provides the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with critical authorities to waive: Certain laws to enable telehealth, remote doctors’ visits, and hospital check-ins; Licensing requirements so doctors from other states can provide services in areas with the greatest need; Critical Access Hospital requirements to allow those hospitals to have more beds and longer lengths of stay; The requirement of a 3-day hospital stay prior to admission to a nursing home; Rules hindering hospitals’ ability to bring additional physicians on board or obtain needed office space; and, Restrictions on where hospitals can care for patients.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act
The House and Senate passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to enhance the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak and address the impact of the virus on personal safety and financial security. The legislation expands access to free testing, provides $1 billion in food aid, and extends sick leave benefits. The president is expected to sign the legislation.
Senate Majority Leader McConnell noted that conversations are already underway regarding a third legislative package focused on economic relief. His priorities include further steps to assist individuals, secure the economy (with a focus on Main Street and small businesses), and ready the healthcare system to continue to address the outbreak.
Senate Minority Leader Schumer released an outline of policy concepts for a third legislative package. That package includes $750 billion in aid divided between $400 million in emergency surge appropriations and $350 million in social safety net investments.
Speaker Pelosi outlined her priorities for the third legislative package, including ensuring that workers who are sick can access longer term leave if short- and medium-term leave is exhausted; increasing the scope of allowable uses of family and medical leave; expanding refundable tax credits to provide support for self-employed workers in the gig economy or other workers with non-traditional employment; and, that any action taken by the Trump Administration balances the workforce needs on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis while ensuring that first responders and healthcare workers have access to the paid leave that they need.
The administration is requesting an additional $45.8 billion in FY20 supplemental funding to address the coronavirus outbreak. The administration is also revising its FY21 budget request to seek additional funding for the CDC.
Lastly, the White House just announced its seeking a $1 trillion economic stimulus package to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The package will reportedly include roughly $50 billion in assistance for airlines, $250 to $300 billion in small business loans, and $250 billion in direct payments for Americans to be paid in April.
Federal Update on Education Policy
As it relates to education, the administration has taken several actions on the coronavirus. The U.S. Department of Education eased rules on colleges and universities, offering flexibility on higher education regulations as campus closures continue. The guidelines seek to alleviate concerns around enrollment requirements and maintaining financial aid eligibility. The Department of Education has also issued several guidance documents on providing services to students with disabilities, student privacy, and assessments and accountability under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced flexibilities to allow meal service during school closures. As of March 18, the USDA granted waiver approvals to all 50 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico to enable Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option (SSO) sponsors to serve meals in a non-congregate setting and at school sites during the coronavirus outbreak. Finally, President Trump announced that the government would waive federal student loan interest until further notice due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In addition to passing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Congress is seeking some relief for K-12 and Higher Education. Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee Bobby Scott introduced the Supporting Students in Response to Coronavirus Act. The bill, with its Senate companion being offered by Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Ranking Member Patty Murray, seeks to provide more than $3 billion in emergency funding for early childhood education programs, K-12 schools, and higher education institutions in response to the outbreak, including $1.2 billion in mandatory funding to provide Education Preparedness and Support Grants to governors to provide funding to school districts or institutions of higher education. The bill also provides $600 million in mandatory funding to provide grants to early care and education programs, $1.2 billion in mandatory funding to provide emergency financial aid to students in higher education, and $3 million in mandatory funding for grantees in the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. The legislation is pending.
While no formal plan has been proposed, Congressional Democrats are also considering increasing funding for E-rate and broadband infrastructure. Specifically, Democrats want to require the FCC to waive existing E-rate rules to allow schools to issue Wi-Fi hotspots or devices to students who lack Internet access at home. Several organizations that represent K-12 public and program school and public library beneficiaries support this notion and have called on the FCC to use its emergency powers to temporarily waive relevant E-rate program rules to ensure all students have Internet access while schools are closed due to coronavirus.
Status of State Legislatures
According to the National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL), as of March 18, at least 16 state legislatures have postponed their legislative session due to coronavirus. These states include: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Additionally, the Mississippi House, Missouri Senate, New Jersey Assembly, and Ohio House have postponed their sessions. We expect more postponements in the coming days.
The executive branch and state legislatures across the country are taking action in response to coronavirus. All 50 states and Washington, DC have made an emergency declaration, and according to NCSL, at least 26 states have introduced legislation related to coronavirus. States have passed or are considering legislation on paid sick leave, health plans, and funding needed to respond to the outbreak. On education, specifically, state legislatures are considering bills that would suspend all statewide assessments, waive instructional time requirements, and pay hourly school employees for days canceled. States, like Texas and Virginia, are also calling on the federal government to waive federal standardized testing requirements.
Our National Education Team will continue to provide—what we hope are helpful—memos like this over the weeks and months to come. Should you have any questions, or would like to talk through any of the issues highlighted above, please know that we are around and readily available. In the meantime, refer to our website as a real-time, catch-all of the many developments happening across the federal and state levels.