Government Affairs & Lobbying Update: COVID-19

Our state and federal lobbying teams continue to closely monitor developments associated with the COVID-19 virus. Please reach out to us with any questions regarding the information presented below. 

STATE UPDATES

President Trump Declares COVID-19 Pandemic a Major Disaster in Florida
At the urging of Governor Ron DeSantis, Senator Marco Rubio, and Senator Rick Scott, President Trump issued a major disaster declaration for Florida on Wednesday. The action provides federal funding for “State, tribal, and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations for emergency protective measures.” It also provides funding for crisis counseling for Floridians affected by COVID-19.

Executive Orders
On March 27, Governor DeSantis issued Executive Orders #2020-86 and #2020-87. Executive Order #2020-86 requires all individuals who enter the State of Florida from an area with substantial community spread, to include the State of Louisiana, inclusive of those entering the State of Florida by roadways, to isolate or quarantine for a period of 14 days from the time of entry into the State of Florida or the duration of the person’s presence in the State of Florida, whichever is shorter. The Order applies retroactively and to all people who have entered Florida after being in any area with substantial community spread. Furthermore, all individuals isolating or quarantining under the Order are to be responsible for all costs associated with their isolation or quarantine, including lodging, food, medical care, and any other expenses throughout the duration of the quarantine. The Order also directs the Florida Department of Transportation to facilitate locations for appropriate checkpoints on roadways as well as the placement of road signs and advisories to direct traffic to the appropriate checkpoint. Not complying with the Order is a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment not to exceed 60 days, a fine of no more than $500, or both.

Executive Order #2020-87, orders all parties engaged in rental of vacation rental properties to suspend vacation rental operations. The Order applies to rental of any house, condominium, cooperative, or dwelling unit that is also a transient public lodging establishment and

  • is rented for periods of less than 30 days or 1 calendar month, whichever is less, or
  • is advertised to the public as a place regularly rented to guests, or
  • is otherwise regulated by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) as a vacation rental.

Specifically, vacation rentals are prohibited from making new reservations or bookings and shall not accept new guests for check-in for the duration of this Order. Noncompliance will result in the revocation of the vacation rental license, by DBPR, of any party in violation. DBPR is also required to alert state authorities to evidence of violations or attempts to violate the Order. Moreover, any party that violates the Order through means of solicitation, such as advertising, may be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor.

On March 26, Governor DeSantis issued Executive Order #2020-85 directing the Department of Management Services to ensure all state employees have access to telehealth services through the state’s contracted HMO plans and PPO organization plan without cost-sharing. The Order also directs the Department to ensure that all cost-sharing that would have been applicable to state employees seeking immunization services under this Executive Order for the influenza vaccination be waived.

Governor DeSantis issued an Executive Order on March 24, Executive Order #2020-83, which outlined protective measures for vulnerable populations, gatherings of private citizens, and density of the workforce. Specifically, the Order directs the State Surgeon General and the State Health Officer to issue public health advisories:

  • Asking people 65-years and older to stay at home and to take such other steps as to limit their risk of exposure to COVID-19.
  • Asking people with underlying medical conditions that put them at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 to stay at home and to take such other steps as to limit their risk of exposure to COVID-19. These conditions include, but are not limited to, chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, serious heart conditions, immunocompromised status (including those in cancer treatment), and severe obesity.
  • Prohibiting all social and recreational gatherings of more than 10 people.
  • Urging those who can work remotely to do so.

On March 24, the Governor issued Executive Order #2020-82 which expands guidelines for those entering Florida from the Tri-State Area. The Order requires all people entering the state to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Furthermore, those individuals would be required to notify any individual in Florida that they’ve come into contact within the last 21 days. The Order applies retroactively to anyone who has entered the state of Florida from the Tri-State area 14 days prior to the issue date. Both Orders do not apply to airline employees or those performing military, emergency, or health responses. Not complying with the Orders is a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of no more than $500 and up to 60 days in jail. 

On March 23, Governor DeSantis issued Executive Order #2020-80 requiring all people traveling to Florida via airports whose point of departure originates from New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in the state.

Prior Executive Orders issued by Governor DeSantis in response to COVID-19:

Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program
The Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program can assist small businesses impacted by COVID-19. The bridge loan program, managed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, provides short-term, interest-free loans to small businesses experiencing an economic injury from COVID-19. The application period runs through May 8, 2020. You may access the application and learn more here.

Health Care

  • After the national emergency was declared by the President, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are authorized under Section 1135 to waive certain requirements that apply to the provision of  Medicare and Medicaid Services. Florida was the first state to submit a Section 1135 waiver request which was approved within days by CMS. The approval letter grants Florida some key flexibilities under the Medicaid program, which otherwise presented problematic barriers to providing needed care during this COVID-19 public health emergency. All Florida health care providers are encouraged to read the CMS approval letter to understand what flexibilities are now available to Florida Medicaid providers to alleviate burdensome requirements which might otherwise hinder the provider’s ability to respond. Updates can be found here.
  • UF Health began a partnership with state officials, The Villages, and The Villages Health primary care network this week to provide testing for COVID-19 and do research on asymptomatic viral shedding of the virus through community surveillance. UF Health is able to process the tests in-house within 24 hours.

Education

  • Florida K-12 schools remain scheduled to be closed until April 15. All K-12 required testing and grading in Florida are canceled for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year. Grades will not be calculated, and parents will be able to choose if they wish to hold their children in the same grade for the 2021 school year. The Florida Department of Education has launched an emergency response page which provides free resources to assist parents with educational instruction and providing meals during the distance learning period. For high school students, AP exams will be administered online in a shortened format. The College Board is providing AP students with access to free review lessons to prepare for the exams. Updates on K-12 education can be found here, and here.
  • Florida’s colleges and universities have moved to online, remote instruction for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester. Traditional commencement ceremonies have been canceled, and each college or university is required to develop an alternate schedule or method of delivery. Some institutions have made the decision to shift to online learning for at least part of Summer 2020. Updates on higher education can be found here and here.

Local Government

  • On March 29, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) announced $100 million of additional funds is now available to local governments in communities impacted by Hurricane Irma through the Rebuild Florida Infrastructure Repair Program. The program, administered by DEO, helps communities fund infrastructure restoration and improvement projects in communities impacted by disasters.
  • Miami-Dade County is constructing a 250-bed field hospital to prepare for an increase in COVID-19-related hospitalizations at Tamiami Park. A list of the county’s latest updates can be found here.
  • Several county and city governments have issued various forms of stay-at-home orders or curfews. Localities that have orders that took effect this week include Alachua County, Broward County, Hillsborough County, Leon County, Miami-Dade County, Orange County, Pinellas County, Aventura, Bal Harbour Village, Boca Raton, Dania Beach, Gainesville, Golden Beach, Jacksonville, Miami, Miami Beach, Surfside, and Tampa. A running list of local orders can be found here.
  • The Hillsborough County Commission approved a stay-at-home order and curfew on Thursday after disagreements earlier in the week among the members of the county’s Emergency Policy Group. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, a proponent of issuing a county-wide order, issued a stay-at-home order for the city prior to the county-wide order going into effect.
  • St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is still considering a stay-at-home order for the city that goes beyond the “safer-at-home order” issued by Pinellas County this week.
  • Collier County commissioners are interested in developing a region-wide stay-at-home order with Lee County.
  • St. Johns County closed public access to beaches within the county under the local state of emergency, effective 6:00 a.m. on Sunday, March 29, and will remain closed until further notice.


FEDERAL UPDATES

President Donald Trump announced Sunday evening that he will extend the social distancing guidelines through April 30 in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus. He noted that the peak of the death rate, caused by the virus, will likely hit in two weeks, but stressed that he hopes the country will be on its way to recovery by June 1.

Congress Approves $2 Trillion Aid Package
The Senate voted unanimously to approve H.R. 748 on Wednesday night, authorizing approximately $2 trillion for assistance and loans to individuals and children, small businesses, corporations, hospitals, and state and local governments. The House passed this bill by voice vote on Friday, and the President signed it into law immediately. Major provisions of this package:

  • Make the Small Business Administration’s 7(a) loan program available to more small businesses, nonprofit organizations, and individuals, with $349 billion in lending authority. Borrowing eligibility would expand to include any business, nonprofit organization, veterans group or tribal business with 500 employees or fewer; sole proprietors, independent contractors, and other self-employed workers; and hotel and food service chains with 500 or fewer employees per location.
  • Raise the 7(a) loan program limit to $10 million or 250% of average monthly payroll costs, with interest rates capped at 4%, and payments deferred for at least six months up to one year.
  • Allow borrowers under this program (the Paycheck Protection Program) to apply for loan forgiveness over eight weeks for payroll costs, mortgage interest, rent, and utility payments, with the SBA paying lenders for accrued debt plus interest.
  • Provide $17 billion for the SBA to pay principal, interest, and associated fees for existing loans under the 7(a), 504, and microloan programs for six months.
  • Allow businesses with as much as $7.5 million in debt to file for bankruptcy under a streamlined Chapter 11 process, and temporarily exclude federal payments related to COVID-19 from the business’s income calculations.
  • Provide $500 billion to the Treasury’s Exchange Stabilization Fund, for loans, loan guarantees, and other investments to businesses, states, and municipalities; this includes $25 billion for passenger airlines and aviation services, $17 billion for businesses deemed “critical to national security,” and $4 billion for cargo airlines.
  • Allow Treasury to designate financial institutions as financial agents of the US, to perform duties as deemed necessary by the Treasury to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Issue refundable tax credits of up to $1,200 per individual or $2,400 for couples filing jointly, with an additional $500 for each child in a household; credits would be reduced for those earning more than $150,000 for joint returns, $112,500 for heads of household, or $75,000 for single filers, and will not apply to those earning more than $198,000 for joint filers, $146,000 for heads of household, or $99,000 for single filers. These payments will be based on 2019 taxes, or for those who haven’t filed yet, on 2018 taxes plus 2019 Social Security statements. Payments will go electronically to accounts taxpayers have designed to receive refunds in the past, or by check.
  • Defer employer payroll and railroad retirement tax payments through the end of 2020, to be paid over two years, 2021-22. Employers affected by the COVID-19 outbreak that retain their employees will be eligible for a refundable credit against payroll taxes, for 50% of eligible employee wages paid between March 21, 2020 and January 1, 2021.
  • Allow individuals to withdraw up to $100,000 from retirement accounts without penalty, and treat them as tax-exempt if repaid within three years.
  • Provide an additional $600 per person per week to people receiving unemployment benefits, through July 31, 2020, extend federal unemployment assistance up to 39 weeks for those affected by the virus, and provide an additional 13 weeks of benefits to those who have already exhausted their regular benefits.
  • Temporarily exempt banks and credit unions from the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s current expected credit losses (CECL) requirement, and allow other accounting rule exemptions for certain loan modifications related to the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Allow the federal regulators to reduce capital requirements for community banks with less than $10 billion in assets, and lift lending limits on national banks’ loans to nonbank financial institutions; allow the FDIC to guarantee non-interest earning deposits; allow corporate credit unions to borrow through the Central Liquidity Facility; and allow the Fed to conduct board meetings without complying with Sunshine Act requirements.
  • Allow homeowners with mortgages guaranteed by the FHA, Fannie Mae, or Freddie Mac to suspend payments for 180 days, with another 180 days’ extension possible, and grant owners of multifamily properties with GSE-backed mortgages payment extensions of up to 90 days.
  • Prohibit foreclosures on single-family homes with GSE-backed mortgages for at least 60 days, starting on March 18, and suspend evictions on multifamily properties with GSE-backed mortgages for at least 120 days.
  • Allow creditors to let borrowers suspend payments or make partial payments for 120 days without reporting negative information to credit agencies.

Federal Regulators Encourage Small-Dollar Lending
The Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, National Credit Union Administration, and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued guidance to banks, credit unions, and savings associations this week encouraging to them to make “responsible small-dollar loans” to consumers and small businesses. The regulators also encouraged lenders to offer workout arrangements to borrowers affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Separately, the federal banking agencies said they would not take enforcement actions against financial institutions that cannot file timely reports for reasons related to the outbreak.

Federal Reserve Creates Facility for Asset-Backed Loans
The Federal Reserve Board announced Monday that it was setting up a Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF) to support the flow of credit to consumers and businesses. The TALF will enable the issuance of asset-backed securities (ABS) backed by student loans, auto loans, credit card loans, loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA), and certain other assets. It joins the previous facilities set up for commercial paper (CPFF), primary dealers (PDCF), and money market mutual funds (MMLF), which serves state and municipal money markets as well.

DHS Delays REAL ID Enforcement
The Department of Homeland Security announced that it will postpone enforcement of REAL ID requirements until October 1, 2021.



ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

GrayRobinson launched a COVID-19 Task Force aimed at helping businesses and local governments address evolving legal and regulatory challenges and emerge stronger from the pandemic.

A robust team of leading attorneys and government relations consultants contributes to this Task Force in the areas of labor and employment, health care, food and beverage, education, and other sectors that continue to be most impacted by the coronavirus. With the COVID-19 Task Force, GrayRobinson reinforces its ability to interface with state, local, and federal government, while providing sound legal counsel.

Please contact your GR attorney/consultant, or click here to request a contact from a member of our COVID-19 task force.



GRAYROBINSON LOBBYING TEAM

Please reach out to any member of our government relations team regarding any of the information listed above. We are here to help you during this time.