Coronavirus Roundup: Government Prepares to Send Stimulus Checks, IRS Begins Mandatory Telework for Nearly All Employees
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
On Friday night, President Trump signed into law the $2.2 trillion stimulus package that included $340 billion for federal agencies and employees to respond to the novel coronavirus outbreak. The bill’s enactment came as the United States reported the most coronavirus cases in the world, with more than 140,000 as of late Monday morning. Here are some other headlines you might have missed over the weekend and today:
President Trump had declared “major disasters” in 22 states, plus the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico, as of Monday morning, Bloomberg reported. This means these areas are eligible for federal funds and assistance to combat the virus.
Trump also said he’s extending his social distancing guidelines from April 12 to 30. The White House will be “providing a summary of our findings, supporting data, and strategy to the American people” on Tuesday.
On Monday, the National Treasury Employees Union updated its checklist of desired protections for federal employees during coronavirus that it published on March 16. Of the eight provisions, one is complete (halt all international and domestic travel) and three are in progress (expand telework, authorize weather and safety leave for those not eligible for telework, and extend the tax filing season).
On Sunday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on CBS the administration expects stimulus checks to go out within three weeks for people who have direct deposit information on file with the Internal Revenue Service. Also, “we will create a web-based system for people where we don't have their direct deposit, they can upload it so that they can get the money immediately as opposed to checks in the mail.”
Meanwhile, the IRS will put nearly all employees nationwide on mandatory telework starting Monday, according to a memo obtained by Federal News Network. “Evacuated employees who can work remotely but don’t have a telework agreement aren’t required to obtain one, but they’re ‘strongly encouraged’ by the IRS to take its telework training course.”
The Professional Services Council, a trade association that represents about 400 companies that contract with the federal government, applauded the stimulus package. The act allows contractors to “continue their day-to-day support of the federal government.”
The National Defense Industrial Association, a trade association that represents federal contractors, released the preliminary results of its survey on how small businesses are being affected by coronavirus. Of the 458 small businesses that responded, 69% don’t expect price overruns on fixed-price contracts, 62% have seen disruptions in cash flow and 54% can’t work on a contract because of a “shelter-in-place” order. NDIA shared the results with Defense Undersecretary for Acquisitions and Sustainment Ellen Lord on Friday.
On Saturday, the Defense Department outlined how it's working with industry to acquire medical supplies. “The department has processed several hundred contracts and orders related to COVID activities, including everything ranging from transportation, communication to medical supplies,” said Defense Spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews. “The department continues to partner with industry to retool and remission production lines.”
Beth Cameron, who ran the White House pandemic office before the Trump administration got rid of it in May 2018, said on MSNBC on Monday that while the coronavirus task force is good, “We lost time by not having a specific office.” Cameron was recently part of a team that launched a coronavirus guide for state, city and local leaders.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is working with supply chain distributors on “Project Airbridge” to speed delivery of critical supplies getting shipped to the United States from abroad, said the president during the White House briefing on Sunday evening. The first flight arrived in New York on Sunday morning with 80 tons of personal protective equipment (including respirators, face masks, gowns, gloves and more). Trump said FEMA scheduled 19 other flights so far and will add more.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency added cybersecurity, energy, election and information workers to its critical infrastructure list on Saturday, Politico reported. Read the full guidance here.
The Justice Department, with the Securities and Exchange Commission, is reviewing the stock trades by two Republican senators after the coronavirus briefings and before the market took a downturn, CNN reported on Monday. “There's no indication that any of the sales...broke any laws or ran afoul of Senate rules;” however, “it is routine for the FBI and SEC to review stock trades when there is public question about their propriety.”
The U.S. Census Bureau said on Saturday it’s extending the suspension of field operations until April 15. Initially, the bureau said field operations would resume on April 1, but stated public and employee health are still at risk.
The temporary field hospital at the Javits Center in New York City opens on Monday. “I congratulate FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers for their work at Javits. I thank the Javits staff. I thank the National Guard,” tweeted New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday. “You built a hospital in a week. You are the best of us.”
Also, the Navy hospital ship, the USN Comfort, arrived in New York on Monday. Check out photos from the tri-state area U.S. Coast Guard.
The first field hospital in Illinois will be at the McCormick Place, a convention center in Chicago. The Army Corps of Engineers hopes it will be completed by April 24, The Chicago Tribune reported.
Trump signed an executive order later on Friday that authorized the Defense and Homeland Security departments to bring in military reservists for active duty “for the effective conduct of coronavirus disease response.” Read the full order here.
The first federal inmate died of coronavirus on Saturday, the Federal Bureau of Prisons announced. The inmate, who had pre-existing medical conditions, was at a low-security correctional institution in Oakdale, Louisiana. According to the bureau’s online tracker—as of Monday mid-morning—19 inmates and 19 staff have confirmed coronavirus cases.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, along with the State Department, brought home 257 American citizens from Honduras and El Salvador on Friday. This brings the total number of citizens returned home during coronavirus to 466.
On Friday night, the Food and Drug Administration approved a 15-minute coronavirus test by the medical devices company Abbott using its emergency authorization powers. Abbott will make tests available next week and expects to deliver 50,000 per day, according to a press release.
The FDA also approved emergency use of an anti-malaria drug for coronavirus treatment when a clinical trial is not feasible. Despite Trump’s push to use it, “career scientists have been skeptical of the effort, noting the lack of data on the drugs' efficacy for coronavirus care and worried that it would siphon medication away from patients who need it for other conditions,” Politico reported.
Upcoming: The White House coronavirus task force will have a briefing at 5 p.m.
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode features a neuropsychologist talking about how to maintain your mental health during this time.
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