State and Federal Legislative Update: March 25, 2020

State Legislative Update

Last night, legislative leadership announced that the Minnesota House and Senate will reconvene on Thursday to pass legislation to address the COVID-19 pandemic. House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said in a joint statement: “Legislative leaders have agreed to convene on Thursday. We are continuing to work closely with the Walz Administration on urgent COVID-19 matters to protect the health and well-being of Minnesotans. We will publicly release details on specific legislation on the House and Senate websites as soon as we can. As we convene, we will do so in accordance with guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Health to keep members, staff, and the public safe.”

The Minnesota House is scheduled to meet at 12:00 p.m. tomorrow, while the Minnesota Senate will return at 2:00 p.m. Floor sessions will be televised and available HERE.

When they do meet tomorrow, both the House and Senate are expected to use the social distancing methods it practiced earlier. This means spreading out across the chambers and the galleries overlooking each chamber. These arrangements are being made to ensure lawmakers are following guidelines from the Department of Health to keep members, staff and the public safe.

For higher education, there are three specific policy provisions that will be addressed in legislation. The first is regarding work study. Language will align State and Federal Work Study guidelines, to allow payments of State Work Study funds to students during declared disasters or a Peacetime Declaration/State of Emergency, in alignment with the federal program rules.

The second issue that will be addressed is the temporary suspension of SELF Loans to be able to provide flexibility to administer the loan program to meet the needs of students, borrowers and cosigners.

The third policy provision is regarding the State Grant program. Language will cover the State Grant, Teacher Candidate Grants, Grants for Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Childcare Grants, MN Reconnect, Safety Officers Grant, and Indian Scholarships, and will hold students harmless in the case of falling below a certain enrollment level. The Minnesota Office of Higher Education will be provided flexibility for schools that are working to help students complete the term in which they are currently enrolled. Language will also allow for flexibility in the administration to waive repayment of specific programs.

All policy items to be discussed tomorrow can be found HERE. State Representatives have been convening informal working groups to discuss measures to assist Minnesotans coping with the COVID 19 pandemic and its related disruptions. The informal agendas from those working groups can be found HERE.

Federal Legislative Update

Senate and White House agree on $2 trillion stimulus package

Early this morning, the Trump Administration struck a deal with U.S. Senate Democrats and Republicans on a historic relief package that provides more than $2 trillion in spending and tax breaks to bolster the U.S. economy and fund a nationwide effort to help with the Coronavirus. “At last we have a deal,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said early this morning on the chamber’s floor. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called it an “outstanding agreement.”

The legislation was still being drafted this morning, but Leader McConnell said the Senate would vote on it later today. Hospitals and other health-care providers will get $130 billion from the Phase III package to help respond to the Coronavirus outbreak. The legislation will also give state and local governments access to a $150 billion fund that can be used to purchase needed medical supplies.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a statement earlier today, said she “will now review the legislative text of this agreement with our Caucus.” Many members are relying on highlights from the plan, and the legislative text of the bill has yet to be released to the public.”

As details in the bill regarding higher education emerge, we will provide those.

Health providers to get $100 million for training

U.S. health care systems will get $100 million in federal funding for training and resources for hospitals, emergency medical services, and 911 call centers, the Department of Health and Human Services(HHS) announced Tuesday. The HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response will direct the funds to three health care facilities that cared for Ebola patients, ten regional pathogen treatment centers, 62 HHS hospital preparedness partners, and numerous hospital associations.

The funds were part of the supplemental appropriations bill signed into law March 6, also known as the Phase I Coronavirus package. Those facilities will serve as “regional hubs” for other hospitals and providers, HHS said in a press release. “We cannot beat the COVID 19 pandemic without getting America’s healthcare workers the training and resources they need to respond to this novel threat, and these funds secured from Congress by President Trump will help make that happen,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said.

New Medicaid guidance helps states get higher matching rate

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has released new information for states that want to increase their federal matching rate during the COVID 19 outbreak. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the Phase II package signed into law on March 18, provides a temporary 6.2 percentage point increase to a state’s Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP), or federal Medicaid matching rate.

The new list of “frequently asked questions” from CMS provides states with information for determining which expenditures qualify for the enhanced rate, and what they must do to qualify for the temporary increase. Generally, states must maintain program eligibility standards and procedures consistent with guidelines that were in place on January 1, 2020.

State Medicaid programs also cannot charge premiums higher than those in place at the start of 2020. They would be ineligible for the temporary increase if they terminate beneficiaries who were enrolled when the COVID 19 emergency began.

First responders can get data of patients exposed to COVID 19

Health care providers can share the protected data of patients who have been exposed to COVID 19 with law enforcement, paramedics, or other first responders if doing so is needed to provide treatment, HHS said this week. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights issued guidance Tuesday clarifying when entities covered under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act can disclose patient data to first responders amid the new coronavirus pandemic.

Providers can share identifiable health data such as names and addresses without patients’ permission when that information would help emergency staff provide treatment, is required by law, or when first responders could be at risk of infection, according to the guidance. The guidance is intended to alert first responders, such as EMTs, paramedics, firefighters, and police officers, so that they can take extra precautions or use personal protective equipment. The guidance follows an HHS bulletin issued in February that highlights the type of patient information hospitals and providers can share in an infectious disease outbreak or other emergency situation.

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