Emerging Technologies Washington Update

April 23, 2020

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This week: Coronavirus response, FCC votes in favor of boosting Wi-Fi capacity, Executive Order on immigration rattles tech world.

Coronavirus Response

The Latest

On Tuesday, congressional leadership announced an agreement on interim relief legislation, the approximately $484 billion Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act. The bill includes an additional approximately $322 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, $60 billion for Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program grants and loans, $75 billion for hospitals, and $25 billion for testing. The Senate passed the bill by voice vote later that day and the House is expected to follow suit today and the President has said he will sign it into law.

The House also adopted a resolution to establish a Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. Majority Whip Clyburn (D-SC) will chair the panel, which will review the federal government’s response to the pandemic. Republicans largely oppose the new committee, calling it redundant. The House was scheduled to consider a resolution to authorize remote voting by proxy and provide for official remote committee proceedings during a designated pandemic emergency, but amid significant opposition, Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Leader McCarthy (R-CA) will appoint members to a bipartisan group to study the issue instead.

In addition, today House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman Cicilline (D-RI) unveiled a plan today to institute a moratorium on mergers until the coronavirus pandemic is over. The plan would bar all mergers unless a company is already in bankruptcy or on the brink of failure until the national pandemic declaration has been lifted. Cicilline said that he will push to incorporate this plan in the next stimulus package, however its inclusion is ultimately unlikely.

President Trump announced on Monday that he would sign an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States. On Wednesday, he issued a Proclamation that is discussed below in further detail. Trump also said this week that he instructed the Secretaries of Energy and Treasury to formulate a plan to make funds available to secure the US oil and gas industry.

Elsewhere, the President and federal agencies continue to take other steps to respond to the outbreak, including, but not limited to:

  • The President directed the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council to focus its efforts on supporting distressed communities impacted by COVID-19, including identifying additional funding needed from Congress to best support minority and distressed areas.
  • The Treasury Department updated Paycheck Protection Program FAQs and published guidance and FAQs for state, territorial, local, and tribal governments on accessing the Coronavirus Relief Fund.
  • Treasury announced it finalized Payroll Support Program agreements with several major airlines representing nearly 95% of US airline capacity and disbursed $2.9 billion in initial payments to two major airlines and 54 smaller passenger air carriers. Treasury will make additional payments on a rolling basis. The Department also updated FAQs on the program and published the Payroll Support Program agreement.
  • The Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a 40% emergency benefit increase in monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
  • The Department of Education released an additional $6.2 billion for colleges and universities to provide direct emergency cash grants to students pursuant to the CARES Act. Secretary DeVos also said that colleges and universities with large endowments should not apply for CARES Act relief funds. She also called on Congress “to change the law to make sure no more taxpayer funds go to elite, wealthy institutions.”
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded nearly $165 million to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in rural communities. HHS also announced additional allocations of funds under the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund. $50 billion is allocated for general distribution to Medicare facilities and providers impacted by COVID-19. $10 billion is allocated for a targeted distribution to hospitals in areas that have been particularly impacted and another $10 billion for rural health clinics and hospitals. $400 million is allocated for Indian Health Services facilities.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a toolkit to help state and local healthcare decisionmakers navigate COVID-19 health workforce challenges.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the first diagnostic test with a home collection option for COVID-19 through a re-issued emergency use authorization (EUA).
  • The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) sent a memo to heads of executive departments and agencies on aligning federal agency operations with the Guidelines for Opening Up America Again.

A complete overview of both congressional and Administrative response efforts is available here and updated daily.

What’s Next

Congress and the Administration will now turn their attention fully to Phase 4 legislation, often referred to as CARES 2 as it is expected to extend and expand upon CARES Act programs. There is likely to be agreement on additional funding for the healthcare system and more support for businesses, especially small businesses. Democrats will also prioritize more funding for state, local, and tribal governments, increased protections for frontline workers, and expanded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and access. Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) said in a letter to colleagues after Senate passage of the interim relief legislation that after the House passes the bill, Democrats will immediately begin work on CARES 2 with a focus on “the health and safety of the American people” and “strong funding for healthcare, police, fire, EMS, and other essential workers.”  Lawmakers and industry alike are also advocating for additional sector-specific relief, with a strong push from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to support media and journalism.

President Trump said on Twitter this week that Phase 4 legislation should include relief for state and local governments, infrastructure investment (including bridges, tunnels, broadband), tax incentives (for restaurants, entertainment, and sports), and payroll tax cuts to increase economic growth. Congressional Republicans are reluctant to provide additional support for state and local governments, with Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) saying this week that he would prefer the bankruptcy route over a federal bailout.

Congress is currently scheduled to return on May 4, but there is a possibility that date could be postponed again. Regardless, McConnell has indicated he does not want to rush Phase 4, preferring to see how CARES Act programs are being implemented. Democrats will advocate for moving legislation as soon as Congress returns.

Relevant Resources

In Other News

FCC Votes in Favor of Boosting Wi-Fi Capacity

The FCC held its April 2020 open meeting today via teleconference where, among other items, it unanimously approved a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking providing Wi-Fi access to the 6 GHz band.  In adopting this Order, Chairman Pai noted that it will boost Wi-Fi capacity by almost five times.  Commissioner Rosenworcel added that the adoption of the Order creates “more permissionless airwaves to the wireless economy” and “expand[s] the democratizing force of having more Wi-Fi in more places.”  Despite the unanimity of the Commission, there are a number of current users of the band and others that are concerned about the potential interference to their services that the new rules will create.  Those interests are considering what next steps they should take to have those concerns addressed.  For more on the Order, click here.

Presidential Action on Immigration Rattles Business Community

A Presidential tweet late Monday night announcing an impending halt to immigration rattled an already uneasy US business community. President Trump justified the decision citing record unemployment figures as the coronavirus has led to unprecedented job loss. The announcement came on top of global travel restrictions that have severely impacted current and potential immigrants to the United States.

Nevertheless, the vaguely worded tweet added to mounting layers of uncertainty not only for foreign workers in the US and their families, but also the companies that employ them. Such uncertainty could impact companies’ long-term recruiting and staffing efforts. The President received support from conservative Republican lawmaker Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and others, but also backlash from Democrats, industry stakeholders, and certain civil society organizations.

The Proclamation signed Wednesday night was ultimately narrower in scope than industries initially feared. The directive blocks the issuance of green cards to those outside the United States for 60 days, after which the President will review the policy and determine whether renewal is necessary based on economic conditions. There are numerous exceptions and the order does not apply to immigrants already in the US, those seeking certain temporary visas, individuals deemed essential like health care workers and their families, or people in the EB-5 visa program for investors.