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The Senate has reached a bipartisan deal to provide an additional $10 billion in Covid-19 assistance, less than half of what the White House originally had requested.
It would allow the Biden administration to purchase more vaccines and therapeutics, as well as maintain testing capacity and research. But it does not include $5 billion in funding for global Covid-19 aid, nor would it replenish the program that pays for testing, treating, and vaccinating the uninsured.
The deal would be paid for using unspent funds from the Democrats’ $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, which was enacted in March 2021.
However, it would not draw from money previously provided for state and local government assistance. That proposed offset prompted several House Democrats to torpedo a $15.6 billion Covid-19 aid package that was initially part of the full-year spending bill.
“We urge Congress to move promptly on this $10 billion package because it can begin to fund the most immediate needs, as we currently run the risk of not having some critical tools like treatments and tests starting in May and June,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki wrote in a statement Monday.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, who was negotiating for the Republicans, each released the text and summaries of the deal.Here’s what’s in the deal:
The deal would funnel $9.25 billion to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, according to the summaries.
At least $5 billion would be spent on purchasing therapeutics, such as oral antivirals. Currently, there is a limited supply of treatments, including monoclonal antibodies, which are provided free of charge to Americans, regardless of insurance coverage.
The federal government has already scaled back on weekly allocations of many Covid-19 therapeutics due to both a lack of demand and a drop in available funding. Distribution of two monoclonal antibody treatments – sotrovimab and bebtelovimab – was scaled back “because Congress has failed to provide additional funding for the Covid-19 response,” a Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson said in a statement to CNN last month.
Also, the additional funds from the deal would be used to purchase vaccines, including booster shots, vaccines for children and, potentially, new types of vaccines. The Biden administration has warned that second Covid-19 vaccine booster shots – or a new type of vaccine, if needed – will not be free and readily available to all Americans, if and when they are authorized, without additional funding from Congress.
And the funds would be used to maintain testing capacity so that the manufacturing of at-home tests and lab capacity for PCR tests does not decline during the summer to the point where it can’t be ramped up again in the case of a future Covid-19 surge.
Among the ways to ensure testing is available in the future is for the federal government to purchase testing supplies from manufacturers or to provide funding to maintain state and local testing infrastructure.
Some $750 million would go to the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund for research, clinical trials, and development of vaccines for emerging variants. It could also be used to expand vaccine manufacturing capacity as needed.
Without additional funding, the government will have to wind down some Covid-19 surveillance investments that help it detect the next variant, the White House has said.
The $10 billion legislation would be fully offset by Covid-19 relief funds that were previously authorized by Congress but have not yet been spent, according to a summary provided by Romney’s office.
Nearly $2 billion is left over from the Shuttered Venues Operators Grant program, which gave money to live music venues, theaters, and museums that were forced to shut their doors for some period of time due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The program stopped taking applications in August. It awarded more than $14 billion in grants.
The new bill would also repurpose about $900 million that is remaining for the Covid-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan advance program, which allowed some small businesses to receive up to $15,000 that did not need to be paid back. The program would be left with enough money to accommodate pending loan modifications and the recently announced six-month deferment on loan payments, according to a summary of the bill provided by Senate Democrats.
The new bill would use $1.6 billion of unspent funds that were previously given to the US Department of Agriculture by both the Democrats’ coronavirus relief package, known as the American Rescue Plan Act, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, which was signed into law by then-President Donald Trump in 2020, according to a summary from Senate Democrats.
More than $2.3 billion would come from the Aviation Manufacturing Jobs Protection Program, which provided funding to businesses to cover up to half of their payroll costs for certain categories of employees for up to six months. In return, those businesses were required to make several commitments, including to not involuntarily furlough or lay off employees within that group during the same six-month period.
The new bill would also use remaining unspent money in the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, totaling $500 million. That program provided funds to colleges so that they could give emergency financial aid grants to students whose lives were disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The relief package would rescind more than $1.8 billion from the $10 billion in Covid-19 relief funds provided to the State Small Business Credit Initiative Program. The program aims to help states, the District of Columbia, territories, and tribal governments “expand access to capital for small businesses emerging from the pandemic, build ecosystems of opportunity and entrepreneurship, and create high-quality jobs.” The bill would not rescind the money allocated specifically for small and disadvantaged businesses and very small businesses, according to a summary provided by Senate Democrats.
The new bill would also use $887 million from the Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund, which – due to a drafting error in previous legislation – has not been able to use any of the funds without congressional action, according to a summary provided by the Senate Democrats.