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House Releases New COVID-19 Response Legislation

On May 12, Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY) introduced the HEROES Act (H.R. 6800). The bill is the House Democrats’ proposal to respond to the response and recovery needs arising from the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. The House is expected to consider the legislation on Friday, May 15. The bill has a number of provisions, including almost $1 trillion to assist state, local, tribal, and territorial governments as they cope with the economic effects of the crisis.

Please contact your Representatives and Senators in support of this legislation at IAFC.org/takeaction.

The following provisions affect the fire and emergency service:

FEMA Provisions:

  • $500 million for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program for the purchase of PPE and related supplies, mental health evaluations, training and temporary infectious disease decontamination or sanitizing facilities and equipment

  • $500 million for the SAFER grant program
    • Waivers for requirements to the AFG and SAFER programs
      • For AFG, following requirements for the new $500 million and the FY 2020 AFG appropriation were waived:
        • The maximum amount
        • Peer review panels
        • Allocations among career, volunteer, and career departments
        • Limit on 3rd service EMS
        • Local match and maintenance of expenditure requirements

      • The local match and maintenance of expenditure requirements were waived for the $100 million for AFG in the CARES Act (P.L. 116-136)

      • For SAFER, the following requirements for the FY 2020 appropriations and this new $500 million were waived:
        • The hiring requirement (so that SAFER funds could be used to retain firefighters)
        • The graduated 75%-75%-35% federal match
        • The peer review requirement
        • The requirement that federal funds cannot supplant local funds
        • The maintenance of expenditure requirement

  • $100 million for the Emergency Management Performance Grants

Tax Provisions:

  • Permanent extension of the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act (VRIPA), which exempts any property tax benefit and up to $600 in other state and local benefits from federal taxation
  • First responders are permitted to deduct up to $500 from their personal income tax for expenditures on training tuition and uniforms.
  • For 2020, first responders and “COVID-19 front line employees” may include “supplies” and “equipment” in their deductible expenses along with tuition and uniforms.
  • Eliminates the limitation on the state and local tax deduction for tax years 2020 and 2021.

Healthcare/Medical Issues:

  • Requires state Medicaid plans to cover non-emergency medical transportation. (This is helpful for fire department which try to re-direct non-emergency patients to non-911 options)
  • Increase reporting requirements for drug manufacturers to disclose when a drug or active ingredient is produced overseas. The bill also provides enforcement authority to the FDA to enforce requirement for companies to provide advance notice of interruption or cancellation of drug lines.
  • Directs the National Academies to convene stakeholder groups and a public symposium to assess reliance on foreign drug manufacturing and ways to encourage domestic production of pharmaceuticals.
  • Allows medications to be transferred from the Strategic National Stockpile to other federal agencies when they are within 6 months of expiration

Other Provisions:

  • Repeal of the requirement to auction public safety spectrum in the T-Band (470-512 MHz)
  • Would make the following supplies considered “scarce and critical materials” under the Defense Production Act: diagnostic tests; PPE, including N95 masks, face shields and masks; ventilators; pharmaceuticals for fighting COVID-19; and other medical equipment
    • The President would be given authority to prioritize orders for this equipment that are ordered by state or local government that are scheduled to be delivered within 15 days.
    • FEMA would be directed to appoint an Outreach Representative to act as the single-point-of-contact with industry.
    • The Administration is tasked with developing reports on how to meet the immediate equipment needs and longer-term needs.
  • Clarification that public safety officers that die or become disabled from COVID-19 are eligible for the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits program
  • Creation of the Heroes Fund, a grant program to allow employers of essential workers (including fire and EMS) to pay $13 per hour premium pay on top of regular wages. Essential workers are eligible for up to $10,000 (“highly compensated” essential workers earning above $200,000, up to $5,000) for work performed from January 27, 2020 until 60 days after the last day of the COVID–19 Public Health Emergency. If an essential worker develops symptoms of COVID-19 and dies, the worker’s next of kin receives the remainder of the premium pay as a lump sum. The bill would allocate $190 billion for this program.
  • Removes the exclusion disallowing the paid sick and family leave credits enacted in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FCCRA) for Federal, state, and local governments. It makes conforming changes to the definition of qualified wages to align the credit with the intent that the credit covers the leave required by the respective mandates. This provision is effective as if included in FFCRA.
  • Requires the President, in coordination with the National Response Coordination Center of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and heads of other Federal agencies (as appropriate) to submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report assessing the immediate PPE needs of critical infrastructure industries and workers, including the fire and emergency service.

Because the bill includes important public safety provisions, including additional funding for the AFG and SAFER grant programs; the repeal of the T-Band auction; and the extension of the VRIPA, the IAFC is asking Congress to pass this legislation. Please contact your Representatives and Senators in support of this legislation at IAFC.org/takeaction.

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