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Coronavirus Roundup: Infrastructure Plan Addresses Future Pandemics; Non-Tax Filers to Receive Stimulus Payment by April 7

Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.

President Biden signed an extension to the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program on Tuesday afternoon. It extended the deadline to apply for a loan from March 31 to May 31 and gave SBA until June to process loans. This was a “bipartisan accomplishment,” he remarked. “Nearly 90,000 business owners are still in line, and there's money left. Without somebody signing this bill today, there are hundreds of thousands of people who could lose their jobs, and small and family businesses that might close forever.” He added that, “particularly Hispanic, as well as African American small businesses are just out of business because they got bypassed the first time around.” 

Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed:

The SBA inspector general reported on Tuesday that the agency awarded $265 million for entrepreneurial development agreements and grants under the CARES Act as required, but could better define goals and should establish performance targets. “Of the $265 million, $240 million were made available for Small Business Development Centers and Women’s Business Centers for educating, training, and advising small businesses” on a variety of matters, such as telework and mitigating the economic impacts of the pandemic, said the IG. “The act made the remaining $25 million available for SBA to establish a single centralized, online hub for information related to COVID-19.” 

Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan, unveiled on Wednesday, includes $30 billion over four years to prepare for future pandemics and mitigate job losses from the current one. “This includes investments to shore up our nation’s strategic national stockpile; accelerate the timeline to research, develop and field tests and therapeutics for emerging and future outbreaks; accelerate response time by developing prototype vaccines through Phase I and II trials, test technologies for the rapid scaling of vaccine production, and ensure sufficient production capacity in an emergency; enhance U.S. infrastructure for biopreparedness and investments in biosafety and biosecurity; train personnel for epidemic and pandemic response; and onshore active pharmaceutical ingredient,” said a fact-sheet from the White House.

Despite the Biden administration’s efforts to distance itself from the Trump administration, “Operation Warp Speed” for vaccine development and distribution is “very much in place,” Stat News reported on Tuesday. However, the Biden administration has “overlaid it with added structure and personnel” and does not use the original name.

The administration is creating a volunteer network of health experts and community leaders, called the “Covid-19 Community Corps” to boost trust in the vaccine, Politico reported. The initiative, under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Health and Human Services Department, is expected to launch on Thursday. 

The CDC re-established its advisory committee to the director, according to a notice published in the Federal Register on Wednesday. Former President Trump issued an executive order in June 2019 ordering agencies to cut one-third of their advisory committees, which sparked concerns from the scientific community. This particular committee was terminated in September 2019, according to a federal database. Among its responsibilities, it will “assist states and their political subdivisions in the prevention of infectious diseases and other preventable conditions, and in the promotion of health and well-being,” said the notice. 

The Food and Drug Administration contracted with LabCorp to establish a biweekly coronavirus testing program for agency employees and contractors going into workplaces, Politico reported on Tuesday. “Under the yearlong agreement, LabCorp will send at-home sample collection kits to FDA employees,” said the report. “The test results will be provided through an online portal to the FDA employee and the agency within 48 hours of the lab receiving the sample for testing.” 

As federal agencies begin to bring employees back into offices, health and safety protocols aren’t the only concern, Meritalk reported. “Cybersecurity threats surged across the public and private sectors with the transition to remote work,” said the report. “Agencies must take a comprehensive inventory of all assets that connect to agency networks—before workers return to the office. This inventory enables cybersecurity teams to identify security gaps and develop a punch list of actions that need to be taken to close them.” 

The Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service announced on Tuesday that the majority of Social Security recipients and other federal beneficiaries will receive stimulus payments by April 7. This was after concerns from lawmakers that it was taking too long for individuals who don’t typically file tax returns to receive the money. “The IRS continues to review data received for Veterans Affairs benefit recipients and expects to determine a payment date and provide more details soon,” the agencies said in a statement. “Currently, the IRS estimates that economic impact payments for VA beneficiaries who do not regularly file tax returns could be disbursed by mid-April. VA beneficiary payment information will be available in the Get My Payment tool at a future date.” 

Despite delays from the pandemic, the National Archives and Records Administration is maintaining its goal of not accepting paper records from agencies after December 2022, Federal News Network reported on Tuesday. “The pandemic, however, put much of this work on hold at agencies for more than a year,” said the report. “Fewer employees are able to report to the office to transfer paper records into electronic formats, and agencies have less access to support services with the closure of NARA’s 18 Federal Records Centers during the pandemic.” NARA is in the processing of collecting feedback from agencies about meeting this deadline.

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode is about what a return to offices could look like as we embrace the “new normal.” 

Help us understand the situation better. Are you a federal employee, contractor or military member with information, concerns, etc. about how your agency is handling the coronavirus? Email us at newstips@govexec.com.

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