Government Affairs & Lobbying Update: COVID-19

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. 

STATE UPDATES

Reopening

Gov. Ron DeSantis hinted most of the week that the state was ready to move into the next phase of reopening. On Friday, he outlined the plan, which he called a “Full Phase One”.

Executive Order 20-123 explains that restaurants and retail stores may operate at 50% capacity, double the current 25% capacity cap. The next step also allows libraries, museums, gyms, and fitness centers to open for the first time. They also must adhere to the 50% cap.

As most counties move forward, Miami-Dade and Broward will start reopening under what DeSantis now calls the “initial Phase One.” The Governor signed an executive order on Thursday (20-122) that permits the two counties to start reopening, effective 12:01 a.m. Monday. The guidelines mirror those laid out in DeSantis’ original reopening order (20-112).

Housing

Also on Thursday, the Governor extended an executive order blocking foreclosures and evictions through June 2. The order suspends “any statute providing for an eviction cause of action under Florida law solely as it relates to non-payment of rent by residential tenants due to the COVID-19,” meaning evictions for other reasons are still permitted.

Courts & Justice

Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady amended his emergency order to change the limits placed on court employees’ personal travel. The amended order states that employees must report certain kinds of personal travel and that they may be subject to work-from-home quarantine measures, depending on where they have traveled. Canady also issued “best practices” guidelines clarifying the rules enacted in his overarching emergency order, which primarily outlines court policies related to remote hearings.

Health

The Agency for Health Care Administration issued two emergency rules (59AER20-2 and 59AER20-3) aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities. The rules require nursing homes and assisted living facilities to grant access to the Florida Department of Health for the infection prevention and control, including mandated COVID-19 testing of both on-duty and off-duty staff.

Education

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued an emergency order Wednesday that cancels teacher evaluations for the current school year and extends the deadline for educators to renew certifications expiring June 30 to Dec. 31. Additionally, the order makes job searches a qualifying purpose for families to gain eligibility for child care and, at state colleges, certain testing requirements have been waived along with the requirement that college boards of trustees submit spending plans for the current fiscal year.

FEDERAL UPDATES

Reopening

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a handful of one-page documents aimed at helping different types of businesses and public facilities decide how and whether to reopen. Each document uses a “decision tree” format that outlines what should be considered ahead of reopening. The document for schools asks whether reopening would be consistent with state and local orders; whether recommended safety measures are in place; and whether plans to handle sick employees or students are in place. The CDC has prepared other documents to guide the decision-making process for offices as well as restaurants and bars.

Congress

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled House Democrats’ plan for another wave of coronavirus aid, which includes $1 trillion in aid for state and local governments, more Paycheck Protection Program funding, another round of stimulus checks for taxpayers, and hazard pay for essential workers. The plan, called the “HEROES Act,” cleared a procedural vote to open it up for debate on Friday. The House voted in favor of the bill which passed mostly along party lines, with a handful of Republicans joining most Democrats in backing the legislation. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated the Senate will not act on the bill until after Memorial Day.

Health

The Department of Health and Human Services announced that the Health Resources and Services Administration had awarded $583 million to 1,385 health centers to expand testing for the new coronavirus. The disbursement included 47 Florida facilities, which received a combined $28.6 million. HHS also extended the deadline for healthcare providers to accept the terms and conditions for Provider Relief Fund from 30 days after they receive a payment to 45 days.  

Finance

The U.S. Treasury Department said it has approved over $25 billion in assistance to 352 applicants for the Payroll Support Program for the aviation industry. The department said in a statement that it has granted approvals to "all of the major passenger air carriers, more than 260 smaller passenger air carriers, and a significant number of cargo air carriers and contractors.” So far, $357.6 million in Payroll Support Program funding has been granted to Florida-based companies, including $334.7 million to Spirit Airlines. A full list of recipients is available on the department’s website.

Housing

The Federal Housing Administration extended its foreclosure and eviction moratorium through for homeowners with FHA-insured Single Family mortgages through June 30. The extension applies to homeowners with FHA-insured Title II Single Family forward and Home Equity Conversion (reverse) mortgages, and directs mortgage servicers to halt all new foreclosure actions and suspend all foreclosure actions currently in process and cease all evictions from FHA-insured Single Family properties.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will offer borrowers a “payment deferral” option that lets borrowers who are able to resume monthly mortgage payments defer their missed payments until the time their home is sold, refinanced, or at maturity. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are currently offering forbearance to borrowers with financial hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic; Thursday’s statement clarifies that “the Enterprises do not require lump sum repayment at the end of the forbearance.” Mortgage servicers will begin offering the payment deferral option on July 1.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) launched a new website to provide a single source of information about help available to homeowners and renters. The website provides links to mortgage relief options and renter protection, and tips for avoiding scams and bad actors. It includes a short video that explains the mortgage forbearance provisions of the CARES Act.

WE ARE GRATEFUL FOR YOU

This week we are thankful to work with Hillsborough County Schools. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and during this time of isolation and uncertainty, they are reminding students of where to go if in need of support. #MentalHealthMatters

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

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.