Negotiations on a year-end COVID-19 relief package inched forward as a bipartisan group of nine senators and seven members of the House Problem Solvers Caucus released additional details of their bicameral framework announced Dec. 1 [see Washington Highlights, Dec. 4].
House and Senate leaders have yet to reach an agreement on the path forward for such a package, but the bipartisan group of lawmakers continues to urge action before the end of the year. Though legislative language has not been released, the summary provided to the press shows that the $908 billion framework includes funding for a number of key priorities for academic medicine, including:
- $35 billion for the Provider Relief Fund, which includes $7 billion for rural providers and $1 billion for tribes, tribal organizations, urban Indian health organizations, and health service providers to tribes. It also includes a directive to the Department of Health and Human Services to take into account those providers who were underrepresented in previous distributions or who may be at risk of closing, fixes and clarifications to the reporting guidelines, and uses of the funding as well as the ability to move it within systems.
- $6 billion for vaccine development and distribution.
- Funding for testing and contact tracing.
- Support for research through the National Institutes of Health, including studying post-acute COVID-19 syndrome and other long-term health outcomes in COVID-19 survivors.
- $300 million for health workforce programs, including the National Health Service Corps and the Nurse Corps.
- $82 billion for education funding, including a portion to be designated for institutions of higher education.
- Extending the suspension on student loan payments and interest accrual until April 30, 2021 [see Washington Highlights, Dec. 11].
The framework also includes two placeholders for funding to support state and local governments, which Democrats have been urging to include, and provisions to provide liability protections, which is a Republican priority. The framework would also rescind unused direct Treasury loans, excess funds from Federal Reserve facilities authorized in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES, P.L. 116-136), and unspent balances of remaining funds from the Paycheck Protection Program to be reinvested into the Paycheck Protection Program.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration released a separate $916 billion proposal on Dec. 8 that would reduce funds for unemployment benefits in order to provide another round of stimulus checks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued a press statement on the White House proposal, stating, “While it is progress that Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) has signed off on a $916 billion offer that is based off of the bipartisan framework, the President’s proposal must not be allowed to obstruct the bipartisan Congressional talks that are underway. ... The bipartisan talks are the best hope for a bipartisan solution.”
In a Nov. 18 letter, the AAMC submitted recommendations to congressional leaders to address the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, upcoming expiration of key health extenders, and unfinished fiscal year 2021 spending bills in any year-end legislation [see Washington Highlights, Nov. 20].