Major Provisions of Administration-House of Representatives Agreement on Coronavirus Legislation

COVID-19 Update

Just before 1:00 a.m. on Saturday, March 14, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a substantial economic relief and healthcare bill aimed at combating the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The bill, which passed on a 363-40 vote, was the culmination of intense negotiations between Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. While the deal came close to falling apart at several points over the past 48 hours, the final product reflects a significant bipartisan compromise. Key highlights of the bill are summarized below.

The Federal Government Affairs Group here at Manatt has been breaking down the bill in the hours since passage and is ready to do more in-depth analysis of specific provisions as necessary.

Free Testing

The bill requires private insurers and public programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to cover 100 percent of the costs of testing for COVID-19 without any need for prior authorization or other cost sharing. States are also authorized to cover testing for the uninsured population through their Medicaid programs.

Providers will be reimbursed for their costs through an additional $1 billion authorized to the National Disaster Medical System.

Medicaid Fiscal Relief

To help states and territories address increased spending during the public health emergency period, the bill provides a 6.2 percentage point increase in the regular (e.g., nonexpansion) Medicaid matching rate for both states and territories through the last day of the calendar quarter in which the federal COVID-19 emergency declaration ends. The bill also provides additional funding to the territories for FYs 2020 and 2021.

Food Security

The bill waives the federal work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly known as food stamps) beginning one month after enactment and continuing until a month after the emergency ends. This bill would not automatically change any state-imposed work requirements, but it would alter rules regarding how those requirements affect future eligibility for SNAP. Also, on the state level, states that declare their own emergency regarding COVID-19 would be eligible for emergency food aid to address immediate needs as a result of increased participation.

New authorizations of funds: An additional $1 billion is authorized to expand food security programs in 2020 and 2021. Half of that ($500 million) will go toward the Supplemental Nutrition Program for the Women, Infants and Children program (WIC), which is targeted toward mothers with very young children. The emergency food assistance program would also be appropriated an additional $400 million. The remaining amount ($100 million) would be distributed to the territories to help with food security programs in those places.

School Lunches

The bill includes a provision that would allow states to alter their SNAP programs to provide increased aid to families with school-aged children whose schools have been closed for five or more days. These benefits will be distributed via Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards.

The bill would also waive certain requirements for the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.

Emergency Leave

The bill expands and revises the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) to provide 12 weeks of Public Health Emergency Leave. An employee who has been employed 30 days or more must be afforded job-protected leave if the employee (1) is exposed to coronavirus; (2) exhibits symptoms of coronavirus; (3) must care for a family member who has been exposed to or exhibits symptoms of coronavirus; or (4) needs to care for his or her son or daughter under 18 years of age if the son’s or daughter’s school, daycare or other care provider has been closed due to a public health emergency declared by federal, state or local authorities. The first 14 days of such leave may be unpaid; however, thereafter paid leave will be available at two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate for hours the employee would normally be scheduled to work, with special provisions for part-time work. 

In addition, this bill includes the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, which establishes the immediate availability of two weeks of paid sick leave for any employee, regardless of employment duration—80 hours for fulltime employees, or for part-time employees, an amount based on the average number of hours worked. This bill provides for paid sick leave at 100 percent of the employee’s regular rate for diagnosis, care, self-isolation or quarantine related to coronavirus exposure or symptoms, and two-thirds pay for the following: (1) to assist a family member who is self-isolating because such family member of the employee has been diagnosed with coronavirus, is experiencing symptoms and needs to obtain medical care/diagnosis or preventive care, or has been quarantined, or (2) to care for a child if the school, place of care, or child care provider of such child is unavailable due to a public health emergency.

Due to a provision that is proving somewhat controversial, these requirements apply only to employers with fewer than 500 employees. In addition, for the expanded FMLA leave, the Department of Labor is empowered to grant hardship waivers to businesses with fewer than 50 employees, as well as exempt health care providers and emergency responders. Additionally, the legislation would help employers cover these increased costs by providing a limited employer-side payroll tax credit. A similar tax credit for self-employed individuals is included as well.

Unemployment Insurance

Provides $1 billion in 2020 for emergency grants under certain conditions to states for activities related to processing and paying unemployment insurance benefits. Each state would receive a proportional amount based on the share of federal unemployment taxes paid by its employers. Unemployment benefits would also be extended to as long as 26 weeks in most states.

For further information, please contact Jack Quinn (jquinn@manatt.com), Gregg Nunziata (gnunziata@manatt.com), June DeHart (jdehart@manatt.com) or Ned Waters (ewaters@manatt.com) in Manatt’s federal government group. Our federal government team summarized the bill with assistance from our colleagues in Manatt Health and our employment team, and we would be happy to facilitate introductions.

For a broader analysis of the paid leave provisions, check here.

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