Our state and federal lobbying teams continue to closely monitor developments associated with the COVID-19 outbreak. Please reach out to us with any questions regarding the information presented below.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced his “Re-Open Florida Task Force” this week. The group is composed of business, legislative, and state agency leaders. The task force is focused on developing guidelines to re-open Florida’s economy.
Various working groups met throughout the week to discuss best practices for businesses to re-open without undoing the progress made on “flattening the curve” of coronavirus infections. The task force’s final recommendations will be compiled over the weekend and delivered to the Governor early next week.
Reflecting on the work of his task force, the Governor stated that re-opening movie theaters and sporting events was “far in the future.” These comments, given at a press conference, reflect the dichotomy of Florida’s options going forward. On one hand, the Governor’s “shelter at home” order appears to have kept Florida well below the predicted number of cases and deaths. On the other hand, the Governor is wary of opening up the floodgates to a second wave of infections. What is clear is that the Governor wants Florida well beyond the “curve” before it fully reopens.
On Friday, the Governor directed Surgeon General Scott Rivkees to allow pharmacists to administer coronavirus tests. Details on whether pre-approval would be necessary weren’t announced, but DeSantis said the state is trying to make testing as “simple and accessible as possible."
Problems with the state unemployment benefits system continued this week. After launching a new dashboard to track the number of applications received, processed, and paid out, the Department of Economic Opportunity’s online applications was taken down for the weekend to process payments. It will reopen at 8 a.m. Monday.
Additionally, Department of Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter, who now oversees the unemployment system, said the state will start approving retroactive benefits claims. Satter said the retroactive period would go back to the date of an applicant’s job loss or March 9, whichever is later.
There were no new developments regarding a possible Special Session from the Senate President or House Speaker. However, Reps. Evan Jenne and Bobby DuBose, the incoming leaders of the Democratic caucus, wrote the Governor asking for a Special Session.
The move by the minority party is mostly symbolic. It is unlikely Republican lawmakers, who hold an advantage in each chamber, would respond to the request. Additionally, DeSantis and Senate President Bill Galvano have said — as of now — a Special Session would be premature.
State revenue forecasts produced next month would better inform any potential Special Session, they argue. DeSantis has not yet signed the 2020-21 budget. The fiscal year begins on July 1.
The Senate and House approved the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, to provide approximately $483 billion in additional relief to small businesses, funding for hospitals, and support for testing. President Trump signed the bill into law on Friday, and it took effect immediately. Major provisions of the new law include:
- $310 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), with $30 billion of that allocated to financial institutions with less than $50 billion in assets and $30 billion allocated to institutions with less than $10 billion in assets, community development financial institutions, and minority depository institutions
- $10 billion in additional funding for the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program
- $50 billion for additional SBA guarantees for disaster loans
- $75 billion for hospitals and healthcare providers through the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund
- $25 billion to support COVID-19 testing, including manufacturing, distribution, personal protective equipment (PPE), development, and surveillance and contact tracing
The Department of Health and Human Services announced it had distributed $631 million in CARES Act funding to bolster testing and case tracking efforts. Florida will receive about $30 million.
HHS also announced it had extended the application window for hospitals to apply for COVID-19 High-Impact Payments through April 25. HHS said the extension would not delay payments for hospitals that had already completed the application process. Distributions are expected to begin next week.
Additionally, Congress’ new coronavirus relief package will send $75 billion to hospitals and $25 billion for coronavirus testing across the U.S. and its territories. The distribution of those funds has not yet been announced.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this week that it was increasing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits by 40%. The program, informally known as food stamps, has seen a spike in enrollment during the coronavirus pandemic.
SNAP benefits are set based on household income, with lower-earning families receiving higher benefits. Currently, the average household receives $528 a month. USDA said the expansion would allow the average household to receive the maximum benefit of $768 a month.
WE ARE GRATEFUL FOR YOU
This week, we are GRateful for our client Devereux, whose youth are learning to make facemasks to keep frontline workers healthy and safe.
COVID-19 Task Force
GrayRobinson's COVID-19 Task Force is aimed at helping businesses and local governments address evolving legal and regulatory challenges and emerge stronger from the pandemic. Keep up with our Task Force updates here.