Coronavirus Roundup: Relief Checks Coming as Early as This Weekend; A Bipartisan Effort to Extend Small Business Loan Program
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
During his first prime time address on Thursday night, President Biden directed states, tribes and territories to make all adults eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine by May 1, with the hopes that there can be some return to normalcy by the Fourth of July. “We're mobilizing thousands of vaccinators to put the vaccine in one's arm, calling active-duty military, [Federal Emergency Management Agency employees], retired doctors and nurses, administrators, and those to administer the shots. And we've been creating more places to get the shots,” Biden said. “We've made it possible for you to get a vaccine at nearly one—any one of 10,000 pharmacies across the country...We're also working with governors and mayors in red states and blue states to set up and support nearly 600 federally supported vaccination centers that administer hundreds of thousands of shots per day.”
While not specifically mentioning former President Trump or the Trump administration, Biden said, “a year ago, we were hit with a virus that was met with silence and spread unchecked,” and there were “denials for days, weeks, then months,” which “led to more deaths, more infections, more stress and more loneliness.” However, in that time “we saw how much there was to gain in appreciation, respect and gratitude,” he added. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
Following Biden’s signing of the $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan, Pandemic Response Accountability Committee Chair Michael Horowitz reiterated that his panel’s oversight efforts will continue. “We are committed to promoting transparency and conducting aggressive oversight of the more than $5 trillion in pandemic response,” he said in a statement. “We appreciate the ongoing support from Congress and the administration of the [accountability committee] and its oversight mission.” The committee received $40 million for its efforts, while the Government Accountability Office received $77 million and many agency inspectors general offices received funding allocations as well.
The first wave of people could start seeing their relief payments in their bank accounts as soon as this weekend, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during the briefing on Thursday. The “Department of Treasury and the IRS are working hard to get relief payments out the door as fast as possible to the American people.”
During the briefing Psaki also pushed back on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s comments that the U.S.-Mexico border is completely open and suggestions that Customs and Border Protection officers aren’t getting vaccinated. “There's no higher priority than the health and safety of our federal workforce,” Psaki said. “The Department of Homeland Security and CBP have been clear that currently more than 64,000 frontline DHS employees, including members of the U.S. Border Patrol, have received a vaccination.” Additionally, Psaki said Abbott rejected the administration's proposal to fund testing for migrant families after he blamed, without evidence, migrants for the spread of the virus in his state, as CNN reported last week.
Andy Slavitt, White House senior adviser for COVID-19 response, said on Fox News on Thursday, “I would absolutely tip my hat” to the Trump administration’s “Operation Warp Speed,” because it “made sure that we got in record time a vaccine up and out. That’s a great thing and it's something we should all be excited about.” This came a day after former President Trump released a statement saying “if I wasn’t president, you wouldn’t be getting that beautiful ‘shot’ for five years, at best, and probably wouldn’t be getting it at all.”
The New York Times looked at how many “West Wing” staffers are working very far from the West Wing due to coronavirus precautions and, as a result, are experiencing the realities first-hand they’re working to address. “Some officials working from afar said they hoped to move to Washington by the summer, but they have no firm plans to do so,” said the report. “Anne Filipic, Mr. Biden’s director of management and administration, said there were ‘no immediate plans’ to bring a full staff back to the White House. She added that the administration would ‘remain flexible with transition timelines given the unprecedented circumstances.’ ”
The Biden administration announced on Thursday it would provide nearly $2.5 billion to states and territories to address the mental illness and addiction crisis that the pandemic has worsened. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said funds would be made available through two grant options.
On Thursday, a group of bipartisan, bicameral lawmakers introduced a bill to extend the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program through May 31, as it is currently set to expire at the end of March. “With the ongoing distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re not there yet,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “That is why we need to extend the deadline for the PPP now. By extending the PPP, our bill would help our nation’s small employers retain access to forgivable PPP loans.” The new COVID relief package allocated $7.25 billion for the program, but did not extend it.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is expected to issue new, temporary rules next week on decreasing the spread of coronavirus in workplaces, which could cause tensions with states and businesses’ reopening plans, Politico reported on Thursday. This would be “in the form of a six-month emergency temporary coronavirus standard that unions and Democrats have sought since the pandemic began,” said the report. Biden issued an executive order in January giving the agency until March 15 to decide on taking such action.
Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will give a briefing at 12 p.m.
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