President Biden departs after speaking in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday.

President Biden departs after speaking in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday. Andrew Harnik/AP

Coronavirus Roundup: Fourth Round of Stimulus Payments Has Been Sent; White House Budget Preview to Address Public Health Programs

There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a briefing on Wednesday that the United Kingdom coronavirus variant, which spreads quicker, is now the most common strain in the United States. Recent trends in cases have been associated with daycare centers and youth sports. Also, hospitalization rates are increasing for younger adults. “The virus still has [a] hold on us—infecting people and putting them in harm's way—and we need to remain vigilant,” she said. “We need to continue to accelerate our vaccination efforts and to take the individual responsibility to get vaccinated when we can.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

The White House will release its requested fiscal 2022 spending levels on Friday and some priorities for programs, which will include public health. Advocates say this area “has been chronically underfunded, and [is] one that has come under particular scrutiny after more than a year of battling the coronavirus,” Politico reported on Thursday. 

The Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service announced on Wednesday they began processing a forth batch of stimulus payments on April 2, which were scheduled to be delivered by Wednesday, April 7. Nineteen million payments went to Social Security beneficiaries who either didn’t file tax returns in 2020 or 2019 or use the IRS’s non-filer tool last year; more than 3 million went to Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries; and nearly 85,000 payments went to Railroad Retirement Board beneficiaries. This “brings the total disbursed so far to more than 156 million payments, with a total value of approximately $372 billion, since these payments began rolling out to Americans in batches, as announced on March 12,” the agencies said.

The Health and Human Services Department announced on Wednesday that all community health centers nationwide could now receive coronavirus vaccines, which increases the total invited to participate from 950 to 1,470. The centers are funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration and provide healthcare to nearly 30 million people every year. “Over 91% of health center patients are individuals or families living at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines and nearly 63% are racial or ethnic minorities,” said HHS. 

Frontline federal employees have “inconsistent” access to vaccines, Federal News Network reported earlier this week, based on a survey of employees at 23 civilian agencies and some of their sub-agencies. “The inconsistent approach is leaving some agencies better prepared for the short term future of bringing employees not just back to the office, but into the field to work directly with citizens, businesses and around other mission areas,” the report said. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced on Thursday it would be having a whistleblower stakeholder meeting on May 19. One of the questions it will address, according to a notice in the Federal Register, is: “What can OSHA do to ensure that workers are protected from retaliation for raising concerns related to the pandemic?” 

Senior Trump and Biden administration officials knew about problems at the Baltimore plant months before it accidentally contaminated 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine, Politico reported. “Operation Warp Speed” and HHS officials in the Trump administration received a report from a government official in June 2020 saying that Emergent’s “plan for manufacturing urgently needed Covid-19 vaccines was inadequate,” according to Politico. “Officials from the Trump administration later gave the report, along with other key Operation Warp Speed documents, to the Biden team during the transition.” 

During a briefing on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki reiterated that the plant has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, therefore the incident hasn’t impacted the administration’s ability to secure enough vaccine doses for all Americans because they won’t be receiving vaccines from it. When pressed for comment on the June 2020 report, she said, “I'd have to check on the specifics of the receipt of a report. But, again, it was—it's still not approved by the FDA—the manufacturing facility and the site.”

The Defense Department published an update on travel restrictions at military installations on Wednesday. Restrictions have been lifted at 145 of 230 installations (63%). 

The Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency published its fiscal 2020 annual report to Congress and the president on Wednesday, which recapped the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee’s work. IGs are members of the committee, established in the CARES Act that passed in March 2020. “By leveraging the Council’s existing infrastructure, PRAC was able to launch operations almost immediately and initiate public reporting within 30 days via a new, purpose-built website pandemicoversight.gov,” said the report. “At the close of FY20, the PRAC was already tracking nearly $800 billion in dollars obligated or spent, across 20 agencies, 3.9 million recipients and multiple states. Dozens of instances of criminal activity involving millions of dollars in pandemic-related funding has also been identified and is being acted upon by PRAC-member [offices of inspector general].”

The Small Business Administration IG issued a management alert on Wednesday saying the SBA needs to address “serious concerns and potential deficiencies” in its pandemic relief program for venue arts-related entities that was enacted in December 2020. In order to curb any fraud or misuse of funds it should implement its recommended internal controls, said the watchdog. 

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode is about how the Defense Department has handled telework during the pandemic. 

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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