Government Response to COVID-19

As you know, COVID-19 has caused a massive shakeup across all industries, including the government. Below is a summary of all the actions governments of all levels have been taking to mitigate the harm from COVID-19.

Note that Congress has not stopped working during this period. Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, discussions were already underway for major appropriations for federal programs, including programs that affect the Baltic countries. These discussions continue during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This means that we, as a Baltic-American community, need to have watchful eyes to ensure that programs that benefit the Baltic countries are not cut as the appropriations process continues.

State & Local Response

Governors and local leaders have taken a lead in much of the response to COVID-19. Some governors have become much more prominent during this time period. For example, Ohio governor Mike DeWine has become so popular that a video parody celebrating  his daily press conferences with Dr. Amy Acton has generated over 1 million views in 3 days.

Governors have responded by halting evictions, releasing people from prison and jails, closing schools, expanding unemployment benefits, and more. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), which is essentially an association of state legislatures, has been following the state response and gives a broader overview here.

One power of state governors has been to decide which businesses stay open to increase social distancing.

First begun by city and county governments, shelter-in-place orders and orders to close businesses began to limit interactions among people. Following the lead of several cities, California’s governor, Governor Newsom, became the first state to order a shelter-in-place order on March 19th. Other states and counties quickly followed suit, and there are now 44 states plus DC and Puerto Rico that have ordered all non-essential businesses to close through executive orders called “shelter-in-place”, “stay at home”, or ordering businesses to close.

All these orders prohibit large gatherings of people and most states and counties have copy & pasted their orders from others. These orders give exemptions for either “critical infrastructure” as loosely defined by the Department of Homeland Security’s CISA, or specifically designate essential activities, essential services, essential governmental functions, and essential travel, like Illinois has done.

To see how your state responded, NYTimes has a nearly comprehensive list of state & county reactions that is free for non-subscribers.

Federal Response

The White House and Congress have taken several dramatic measures to curb the effects of the pandemic. The four most significant actions were taken through large bills in Congress. Three have already passed and there may be a 4th package, as described by Speaker Pelosi.

We must double down on the down-payment we made in the CARES Act by passing a CARES 2 package, which will extend and expand this bipartisan legislation to meet the needs of the American people. CARES 2 must go further in assisting small businesses including farmers, extending and strengthening unemployment benefits and giving families additional direct payments. We must also provide the desperately needed resources for our state and local governments, hospitals, community health centers, health systems and health workers, first responders and other providers on the frontlines of this crisis.

Speaker Pelosi

While nothing in the bill packages seems to directly impact the issues affecting the Baltic countries, the issues addressed by the bill packages still affect all of us. To see how the packages may affect you, below is a summary of some of the highlights of each package.

Congressional bills now signed into law:

  • Signed into law on March 6th
  • Provides $8.3 billion in emergency funding for federal agencies for:
    • Vaccines & medical supplies
    • Providing grants to state & local health agencies
    • Loans for small businesses
    • International humanitarian assistance
  • Waives certain Medicare restrictions and requirements
  • Signed into law on March 18th
  • Provides more money to federal agencies for:
    • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
    • Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)
    • Agencies helping with COVID-19 testing and services
    • Tax credits
    • Reimbursing COVID-19 testing and services for individuals without health insurance
  • Allows the USDA to approve state plans for SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) for households with children affected by school closures
  • Suspends work requirements for SNAP benefits
  • Requires employers with under 500 employees to provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave due to COVID-19 with 2/3 of a salary replacement up to $200 a day
  • Provides money to states to administer unemployment programs
  • Entitles full-time employees up to 80 hours of paid sick time for issues related to COVID-19
    • Allows employers with fewer than 500 employees up to $511 per day for paid sick time and $200 per day to care for an impacted person
  • Requires private health insurance & Medicare to cover COVID-19 testing without imposing cost-sharing
  • Allows Medicaid to cover COVID-19 testing and related visits for uninsured individuals
  • Signed into law on March 27th
  • Suspends payments and interest on federal student loans
  • Provides unemployment benefit assistance to individuals unemployed due to COVID-19 and not otherwise eligible for unemployment compensation
  • Provides up to $1,200 for each American adult and $500 per child
  • Allows penalty-free withdrawal from certain retirement accounts like an IRA, 403(b), and 457(b) plans.
  • Provides a temporary exception from the excise tax for alcohol used to produce hand sanitizer
  • Temporarily expands unemployment benefits
  • Expands telehealth insurance coverage
  • Provides financial relief for aviation workers
  • Provides financial relief for state and local governments, as well as for federal agencies

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