Drop of Knowledge Special Edition: COVID-19 Policy Developments

April 6, 2020 | Blog, General RCAP News, Policy

During the last three weeks, the U.S. Congress has approved and the President has signed into law multiple phases of legislation – Phase I (H.R. 6074)Phase II (H.R. 6201) and Phase III (H.R.748) – addressing the COVID-19 crisis in a variety of ways. Congress is anticipating there will be five phases of recovery legislation, and the Rural Community Assistance Partnership has been working to understand and lift up the needs of small, rural and tribal water and wastewater systems and their communities under the circumstances.

To summarize recent economic relief measures passed by Congress:

Phase I, enacted into law March 6, provides $8.3 billion in emergency funding for federal agencies to ensure that vaccines developed to fight the coronavirus are affordable, that impacted small businesses can qualify for Small Business Administration (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs), and that Medicare recipients can consult with their providers by telephone or teleconference, if necessary or desired.

Phase II, signed into law on March 18 and known as the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” includes provisions for paid sick leave, free coronavirus testing, expanded food assistance, additional unemployment benefits, and requirements that employers provide additional protection for healthcare workers.

  • Specifically, small water, wastewater and solid waste systems should know that this act requires businesses with at least one and up to 500 employees are required to provide up to 12 weeks of paid emergency sick and family medical leave during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • What changed? The Act expands the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to all employers – even those with less than 50 employees. Under existing FMLA requirements, employers with 50 to 500 employees are required to provide two weeks of paid emergency sick leave. This will be in effect from April 1 through December 30, 2020. Employees must be employed for at least 30 days before they are entitled to leave under this new Act.
  • Note: Allowable reasons under FMLA for employees to take leave are not expanded to include employees who must stay home to care for a child under 18 if their school or place of care is closed.
  • For more information on the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” you can visit our partner Community Unlimited’s informational page.

Phase III, signed into law on March 27 and known as the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act,” provides an estimated $2 trillion in spending and tax breaks to strengthen the U.S. economy and fund a nationwide effort to curtail the coronavirus. This package is the largest relief package in U.S. history, and is roughly equal to 10 percent of the country’s economic output.

The RCAP Network is working to help small, rural and tribal communities and their water, wastewater and solid waste systems translate what these policy developments mean. Implications may change depending on your state. As a reminder, at the bottom of the page here you can find RCAP partners based on the region they serve.

Lastly, RCAP, along with our partners in the water sector, recently sent a letter to Capitol Hill supporting critical U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture-Rural Development programs during this crisis.

We have also signed onto letters in support of:

  • Restricting water and electric utility shutoffs,
  • Highlighting the economic develop needs of rural communities,
  • Supporting USDA-RD emergency funding, and
  • Creating tax credits for paid sick leave eligibility for public and non-profit entities.

 

If you have any questions or feedback regarding how policy changes during this crisis will affect small communities and their water, wastewater and solid waste systems, please reach out to Ted Stiger, RCAP Senior Director of Government Relations & Policy, here.