This Week on the Hill
The House is not in session this week. The Senate is in session and continues work on judicial and administration nominations. On Friday the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on two cases involving the administration’s vaccine requirements for certain health care workers and large employers.
COVID-19 Relief Implementation
The following guidance and information was recently released to implement provisions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (Division M of H.R. 133, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021), and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA).
- Administration Announces $1 Billion for Independent Meat Processors: The administration announced the Action Plan for a Fairer, More Competitive, and More Resilient Meat and Poultry Supply Chain. The plan includes $1 billion in ARPA funds for expansion of independent processing capacity. Funding will support financing, workforce, technical assistance, and overtime inspection costs.
- Education Continues to Update MOEquity, MOE, and EANS Data: The Department of Education continues to post baseline and initial data submissions for the Maintenance of Equity (MOEquity) requirement and state applications and awards for the Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools (EANS) The department also posted additional Maintenance of Effort (MOE) waiver requests.
- Education Continues to Approve Plans for States: The Department of Education approved Vermont’s and Mississippi’s state plans for American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP-ESSER) funds; a total of 52 plans have been approved to date.
- FNS Updates Information on SNAP COVID-19 Emergency Allotments: The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) updated its information on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) COVID-19 emergency allotments. FNS granted waivers to states allowing for the issuance of emergency allotments based on a public health emergency; the information now includes acknowledged extensions through January 2022 for several states.
- Education Releases FAQ on Use of ESSER and GEER Funds to Respond to the Pandemic: The Department of Education released a frequently asked question (FAQ) for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) and Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund. The FAQ addresses allowable uses of ESSER and GEER funds by state educational agencies and local educational agencies to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The FAQ is intended to supplement the questions in the ESSER and GEER use of funds guidance published in May 2021. More ESSER resources can be found here.
- ACF Releases Child Care Stabilization Grants Data Form and Instructions: The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) released a provider-level data form and instructions for ARPA Child Care Stabilization Grants. The form and instructions require state and territory lead agencies to report child care provider-level information about the numbers of and characteristics for providers receiving stabilization grant awards. Lead agencies are required to begin reporting the quarterly data by January 31, 2022.
- FEMA Updates Funeral Assistance State and Territory Data: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) updated its COVID-19 funeral assistance data, showing that the agency has provided over $1.6 billion to more than 247,000 people to assist with COVID-19-related funeral costs for deaths occurring on or after January 20, 2020. State and territory specific information is included in the press release.
- Treasury Updates Status of Payments to States for NEUs: The Treasury Department continues to update the Status of Payments to States for Distribution to Non-Entitlement Units of Local Government (NEUs). The data is updated through January 3 and includes first tranche data, invoice date, and first through seventh 30-day extensions granted.
- Education Proposes ARP-ESSER Transparency Requirement: The Department of Education proposed a requirement for the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP-ESSER) Fund, requiring each state educational agency to post on its website Maintenance of Equity information for each applicable local educational agency. Comments are due by February 2.
Administration Actions Related to COVID-19
- Administration Announces Temporary Action to Help Address School Bus Driver Labor Shortage: The Departments of Education and Transportation announced an option for states to waive the portion of the commercial driver’s license (CDL) skills test that requires applicants to identify “under the hood” engine components. All other components of the written and road test will remain. The waiver, which became effective January 3, expires March 31, 2022.
- FDA Expands Use of Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) amended the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to expand the use of a single booster dose for individuals 12-15 years of age; shorten the time between completion of primary vaccination and a booster dose to at least five months; and allow for a third primary series dose for certain immunocompromised children 5-11 years of age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will hold a meeting on Wednesday. CDC updated their recommendations on booster dose administration after 5 months and immunocompromised children.
- Administration Approves Two Additional At-Home COVID Tests: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced two new over-the-counter at-home COVID-19 tests received emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The tests, from Roche and Siemens, were evaluated through a new accelerated pathway to support FDA review of tests with potential for large-scale manufacturing. Combined, it is estimated the companies can produce tens of millions of tests per month for use in the U.S.
- HHS Releases First Week Allocations of Oral Antiviral Treatments: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released Week 1 state and territory allocations of two new COVID-19 oral antiviral treatments: Paxlovid and molnupiravir.
- OSHA Withdraws Provisions of Healthcare Emergency Temporary Standard: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced it is withdrawing the non-recordkeeping portions of the healthcare Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) adopted on June 21, 2021. OSHA announced it “intends to work expeditiously to issue a final standard that will protect healthcare workers from COVID-19 hazards” and it “strongly encourages all healthcare employers to continue to implement the ETS’s requirements in order to protect employees…”
- FNS Clarifies Existing Flexibilities for Child and Adult Care Food Program: The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) released a fact sheet for the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) on managing virtual monitoring and supply chain disruptions. FNS is clarifying existing flexibilities available to assist state agencies and local program operators in meeting the unique needs of their communities.
- Education Publishes Information on Staying in School During COVID-19: The Department of Education published “2022: Staying in School In-Person” to assist school leaders. The document outlines resources on helping students to get vaccinated, implementing testing, collaborating with local health departments, monitoring community spread, and next steps.
IIJA Implementation Resources Released
Federal agencies continue to release implementation resources pertaining to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officially launched the Affordable Connectivity Program. This is the $14.2 billion successor program to the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. Additional guidance was also released.
USDA Final Rule on GMO Labeling Hits Mandatory Compliance Date
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard reached the mandatory compliance date on January 1. As directed by law, USDA established this national mandatory standard for disclosing foods that are or may be bioengineered (previously known as foods containing genetically engineered (GE) ingredients or genetically modified organisms (GMOs)). The standard requires food manufacturers, importers, and certain retailers to ensure bioengineered foods are appropriately disclosed. Regulated entities have several disclosure options: text, symbol, electronic or digital link, and/or text message. Additional options such as a phone number or web address are available to small food manufacturers or for small and very small packages. Frequently asked questions on the standard can be found here.
CMS Announces Webinar on Home and Community-Based Services Technical Assistance to States
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently announced a webinar to discuss technical assistance available to states to support state efforts to enhance their home and community-based services. The webinar will be held Wednesday, January 12 at 1:30pm EST. Following the presentation, webinar participants will have the opportunity to share any questions, comments, experiences or suggestions with CMS and the agency that delivers the technical assistance.
Census Bureau Begins Process for State and Local Officials to Dispute Census Results
On Monday the Census Bureau began accepting cases under the 2020 Census Count Question Resolution (CQR) Operation. CQR gives state, local and Tribal officials the opportunity to request the Census Bureau review their official 2020 Census housing counts for potential processing errors. CQR does not alter redistricting data, apportionment results or other 2020 Census data products but results will be used in the Population Estimates program and other future programs that use 2020 Census data and affect federal funding. The Census Bureau will accept CQR cases January 3 through June 30, 2023.
DOI Seeks Comment on New Conservation Stewardship Tool
Yesterday the Interior Department, in coordination with the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce and Council on Environmental Quality, invited public comment and announced listening sessions on development of the American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas (Atlas). The Atlas is a new tool that will be used to reflect baseline information on the lands and waters that are conserved or restored and is part of the America the Beautiful initiative, a locally led and voluntary nationwide effort that aims to conserve, connect, and restore 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030. Comments must be submitted by March 7 while listening sessions will be held January 13, 19 and 21.
Recently Released Reports
Pandemic-Related Funding Boosts Federal Grants to States
The Pew Charitable Trusts
Six Workforce Trends to Watch in 2022
MissionSquare Research Institute
Probation and Parole in the United States, 2020
Bureau of Justice Statistics
Unemployment Claims Reported for Week Ending December 25
The U.S. Department of Labor released unemployment insurance weekly claims data last Thursday that showed for the week ending December 25, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 198,000. This is a decrease of 8,000 from the previous week’s revised level, which was revised up by 1,000 from 205,000 to 206,000. The 4-week moving average was 199,250, a decrease of 7,250 from the previous week's revised average; this is the lowest level for this average since October 25, 1969 when it was 199,250. The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 1.3 percent for the week ending December 18, a decrease of 0.1 percentage point from the previous week’s unrevised rate. The advance number of actual initial claims under state programs, unadjusted, totaled 256,146 in the week ending December 25, an increase of 1,125 (or 0.4 percent) from the previous week. In addition, for the week ending December 25, 31 states reported 897 initial claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
Job Openings Decrease to 10.6 Million in November
The number of job openings decreased to 10.6 million on the last business day of November, according to data recently released by the U.S. Department of Labor (down from 11.1 million in October). Job openings decreased in several industries with the largest decreases in accommodation and food services (-261,000), construction (-110,000), and nondurable goods manufacturing (-66,000). Job openings increased in finance and insurance (+83,000) and in federal government (+25,000). The number of hires was little changed at 6.7 million and the hires rate was little changed at 4.5 percent. The number of separations increased to 6.3 million (+382,000). The number of quits increased to a series high 4.5 million (+370,000); many economists closely watch the number of quits as a measure of employee confidence in finding another job. Finally, layoffs and discharges were little changed at 1.4 million. Over the 12 months ending in November, hires totaled 74.5 million and separations totaled 68.7 million, yielding a net employment gain of 5.9 million.
Third Estimate Shows GDP Increased More in Third Quarter
Recently released data from the Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis shows that real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 2.3 percent in the third quarter of 2021. Gross domestic product is the value of the goods and services produced by the nation’s economy less the value of goods and services used up in production. This information is based on the “third” estimate, which is derived from more complete source data than were available for the “second” estimate issued in November, which showed an increase of 2.1 percent. The update primarily reflects upward revisions to personal consumption expenditures (PCE) and private inventory investment that were partly offset by a downward revision to exports. In the second quarter of 2021, real GDP increased 6.7 percent.