Federal COVID-19 legislation includes funding critical to emergency response

By Afrack Vargas, CSFA Legislative Advocate

Although most general work of the state legislature in Sacramento (outside of response to the pandemic) has slowed considerably due to the COVID-19 situation, in Washington D.C. the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, emergency legislation appropriating more than $2 trillion to sustain the nation in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, was signed into law by President Trump on March 27. The bill passed the Senate on March 25 and the House on March 27.

While many of you are familiar with the provisions of Division A of CARES Act (aid for businesses and individuals designed to help stabilize the economy; key provisions outlined below) Division B of the Act provides funding for a variety of programs related to emergency services. Specifically, Division B of the CARES Act contains nearly $340 billion in funding, “…for coronavirus health response and agency operations.” This includes:

  • $100 million for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program, which is, “…for the purchase of personal protective equipment and related supplies, including reimbursements…” and is available through September 30, 2021
  • $100 million for Emergency Management Performance Grants
  • $45 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency Disaster Relief Fund
  • $16 billion for the Strategic National Stockpile
  •  $11 billion for vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics, and other preparedness needs
  • $117 billion for hospitals and veterans’ health care
  • $4.3 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Division A of the CARES Act focuses on, “Keeping workers paid and employed, health care system enhancements, and economic stabilization” including:

  • Provides all U.S. residents with adjusted gross income up to $75,000 ($150,000 married), who are not a dependent of another taxpayer and have a work eligible social security number, $1,200 ($2,400 married), and an additional $500 per child. The IRS will use a taxpayer’s 2019 tax return if filed, or in the alternative their 2018 return. The rebate amount is reduced by $5 for each $100 that a taxpayer’s income exceeds the $75,000/150,000 threshold. The amount is completely phased-out for single filers with incomes exceeding $99,000, $146,500 for head of household filers with one child, and $198,000 for joint filers with no children.
  • Encourages Americans to contribute to churches and charitable organizations in 2020 by permitting them to deduct up to $300 of cash contributions, whether they itemize their deductions or not.
  • Increases the limitations on deductions for charitable contributions by individuals who itemize, as well as corporations.
  • Directs the National Academies to study the manufacturing supply chain of drugs and medical devices and provide Congress with recommendations to strengthen the U.S. manufacturing supply chain.
  • Clarifies that all testing for COVID-19 is to be covered by private insurance plans without cost sharing.
  • Provides free coverage without cost-sharing of a vaccine within 15 days for COVID-19 that has in effect a rating of “A” or “B” in the current recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force or a recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
  • Creates a temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program through the end of the year to provide payment to those not traditionally eligible for unemployment benefits (self-employed, independent contractors, those with limited work history, and others) or who are unable to work as a direct result of the coronavirus public health emergency.
  • Provides an additional $600 per week payment to each recipient of unemployment insurance or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for up to four months.
  • Provides states with temporary, limited flexibility to hire temporary staff, re-hire former staff, or take other steps to quickly process unemployment claims.

During these trying times, practice social distancing and follow the orders of the state and local health officials, as we all work to try to flatten the curve. Stay safe.

Afrack Vargas is CSFA's Legislative Advocate and a veteran of numerous successful field campaigns for powerful Sacramento policy makers. He provides his unique insider's view of California policy and politics in CSFA Connection. He may be reached at Afrack@kstreet.us.com.