What is the Federal Government Doing to Help People Impacted by Coronavirus?

June 29, 2020
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Editor’s Note: This blog has been updated on September 24, 2020​

If you are a person impacted by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), are living with cancer, or are immunocompromised, one important way to maintain some sense of control in what might be an anxiety-provoking time is to understand what is being done from a policy perspective to help respond to the pandemic, and how these changes have the potential to actually impact you and your community.

Background

In July the Trump administration renewed the public health emergency for COVID-19, ensuring that critical resources to fight the pandemic can continue across the United States. Congress had undertaken legislative action to respond to the crisis with emergency coronavirus stimulus packages. These bills were aimed at funding research, treatment, and vaccine development, increasing access to certain health care provisions, and lessening the economic suffering for individuals and business, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

First Stimulus Package (March 6)

Bill: The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act
Passed: March 6, 2020
Focus: Research and Vaccine Development, Small Business Relief, and Telehealth Flexibility
Funding: $8.3 Billion

The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2020 was signed into law to help fund research and vaccine development. This $8.3 billion aid package provided emergency funding for federal agencies to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, including for COVID-19 testing, and provided loans and loan subsidies to small businesses.

Telehealth Flexibilities

The bill also included a waiver removing restrictions on Medicare providers to allow them to offer telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries regardless of whether they are in a rural community or not. The provision allows beneficiaries who are covered by Medicare to receive telehealth services from home, reducing the potential risk of COVID-19 exposure associated with visits to medical facilities.

Second Stimulus Package (March 18) 

Bill: Families First Coronavirus Response Act
Passed: March 18, 2020
Focus: COVID-19 Testing Access, Emergency Sick and Family Leave, Unemployment Insurance, and Nutrition Assistance
Funding: $104 Billion, according to Joint Committee on Taxation estimates

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act was signed into law to provide rapid assistance on many fronts including:

Free COVID-19 Testing

The bill allowed for free COVID-19 testing, including emergency room visits and doctor’s fees, for all patients, regardless of insurance type or status. The bill also provided $1 billion to the National Disaster Medical System to reimburse providers for the costs of COVID-19 testing for uninsured individuals.

Emergency Paid Family and Medical Leave

The bill provided funding for paid time off to allow some symptomatic or exposed workers, or parents of children with school closures, to stay home through Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave. Additionally, employees unable to work because they are caring for a child due to COVID-19 related school or childcare closures, can receive family leave pay for a month (up to three months) at a rate not less than two-thirds of their usual pay, capped at $200 per day (up to a total of $10,000).

The bill directs that the provisions of the emergency paid sick leave and emergency paid family leave take effect through December 31, 2020. For more information about whether this provision applies to you, please visit the Department of Labor.

Expanded Unemployment Insurance

The bill directed $2 billion to state unemployment insurance programs that see spikes in unemployment enrollment due to COVID-19. View your state unemployment insurance program to learn more.

Food Assistance

The bill provided emergency funding to ensure the nutrition assistance programs have adequate resources to help those impacted by the COVID-19 public health emergency, including the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC), senior nutrition programs, and food banks. The bill also suspends the work and work training requirements for SNAP (formerly known as the food stamp program) during this crisis. For more information about these nutrition assistance programs, please visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture website.

Third Stimulus Package- CARES Act (March 27) 

Bill: The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act)
Passed: March 27
Focus: Broad Economic Stimulus
Funding: $2 Trillion

A third stimulus package focused on broad economic stabilization, The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, was signed into law on March 27. This bill provided assistance to individuals, businesses, and infrastructure, including:

Direct Payments (Economic Impact Payment​)
The bill provided a one-time, direct deposit payment to individuals and families, who are not a dependent of another taxpayer and have a valid social security number, based on certain income levels. You can check on the status of your Economic Impact Payment on the IRS website.

Expanded Unemployment Insurance
The CARES Act created a temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program to provide payment to those not traditionally eligible for unemployment benefits (self-employed, independent contractors, and gig economy workers). For more information about filing for unemployment insurance, visit the Department of Labor website to learn more. 

Payroll Taxes
The bill included a provision that enables individuals to defer payment of 2020 taxes until 2021 or 2022.

Student Loans
The bill requires the Department of Education to suspend monthly payments on all federally held student loans, without interest, through September 30, 2020. An Executive Order directed the Department to extend the suspension until December 31, 2020. Borrowers with those loans would not have their credit dinged for the suspended payments and the postponement would not interrupt their progress toward any federal loan forgiveness programs. The bill also created a provision that enables employers to provide a student loan repayment benefit to employees on a tax-free basis.

Emergency Relief
The bill includes over $330 billion in emergency relief funding, including $100 billion for hospital, public and not-for-profit entities, and Medicare and Medicaid providers to cover costs related to crisis. The bill also provided emergency assistance to various other programs, systems and institutions, and agencies.

 

Fourth Stimulus Package (April 24) 

Bill: Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act
Passed: April 24
Focus: Small businesses, hospitals, and testing
Funding: $484 Billion

A fourth stimulus package, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (PPP & HCE Act), was signed into law on April 24 to deliver more pandemic aid to small businesses and hospitals, in addition to coronavirus testing. 

While these bills didn't include COBRA subsidies to help employees continue their job-based coverage after being laid off due to COVID-19, under current law individuals who lose their jobs are able to sign up for a health plan on the state marketplaces or could qualify for Medicaid. Learn more on Healthcare.gov

Other Advocacy Actions

Visit our Policy Comments webpage to learn more about the issues that we are advocating for during the public health emergency, including access to care, cost of care, non-profit relief, and patient protections.

What Happens Next?

In an effort to build upon the aid provided in the previous stimulus packages, the U.S. House of Representatives passed another multi-trillion dollar relief package on May 15, titled the HEROES Act, to provide more economic relief for individuals, hospitals, and state and local governments. While this bill is not law, it gives us insight into what Congress is considering for additional relief. We will continue to keep you updated on what this means for you

CSC will continue to update this information and reach out to you with breaking news. In the meantime, please visit our website, cancersupportcommunity.org/coronavirus, on what people impacted by cancer need to know about COVID-19. Sign up for our Grassroots Network to ensure that you receive all policy updates on issues that will impact people with cancer.

Please note that Coronavirus policy updates are quickly evolving. We are providing this content for informational purposes only and updating it as quickly as possible. If you have questions or concerns, please contact action@cancersupportcommunity.org.