Legislative Update 2/22/2021: COVID-19 Relief Package, Nebraska budget

US capitol

The February 22, 2021 legislative update includes highlights from both federal and state legislatures.


  • The House will be voting on the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that heavily favors public health initiatives.

  • The Senate Health Education Labor Pensions (HELP) Committee and the Senate Finance Committee will hold confirmation hearings on Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary nominee, Xavier Becerra.

  • Governor Ricketts that Nebraska now has $200 million in emergency rental assistance available to ensure housing stability during the pandemic.

  • The Nebraska Appropriations Committee released their preliminary budget for the next two years.


Federal Updates

Congress

This is a busy week in Washington, as the House is positioned to vote on the $1.9 trillion relief package (now termed The American Rescue Plan of 2021). Few details of the bill have been made available until last week, when the nearly 600-page legislation was released.

The bill heavily favors funding public health initiatives, with limited funding available to providers through the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) — which some children’s hospitals desperately need with restrictions still enforced in their state.

The package includes:

  • Grants for Rural Health: The bill will establish a pilot program that will give emergency grants to rural healthcare providers. Providers can use the money to increase their capacity to administer COVID-19 vaccines, purchase supplies to increase surge capacity, reimburse for COVID-19 costs, or increase telehealth capabilities.
  • Vaccine Funding: The bill allocates funds to support increased vaccine distribution. It also supports vaccine confidence activities — efforts to increase providers’, patients’, and families’ trust in the vaccine.
  • Support of Defense Production Act: The bill allocates funds to support use of the Defense Production Act (Translation: The act that gives the federal government the authority to order private companies to meet the needs of national defense) to purchase, produce, and repair medical supplies and equipment needed to combat the pandemic.
  • Testing and Contact Tracing: The bill allocates funds toward efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, including testing, contact tracing, SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) genomic sequencing, and surveillance.
  • Public Health Jobs Program: The package establishes a public health workforce, which is a program to fund 100,000 public health jobs. Under this program, public health workers would perform vital tasks, such as vaccine outreach and contact tracing.
  • Cost of Getting the Vaccine: The package bars Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) insurers from applying cost-sharing — where members have to pay a portion of the cost of the vaccine out of pocket — to members for any costs related to administering the vaccine. It requires insurers to pay for the vaccine.
  • Federal Wage Increase: The proposal includes increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour —- more than double the current federal wage of $7.25 per hour. This was one of the items that President Biden promised to enact while on the campaign trail.
  • Local Aid: The bill allocates $350 billion to help state and local governments overcome budget shortfalls.

Children’s Hospital Association

On Monday, the Government Relations (GR) subcommittee with Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) sent a letter to Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 vaccine coordinator. The purpose of the letter was to communicate our goals regarding children and vaccines. These goals include:

  • Supporting vaccination efforts for children (which we understand may be less likely to occur in 2021)
  • Increasing awareness of children’s health overall as we advance broader priorities, such as mental and behavioral health
  • Positioning children’s hospitals as key national leaders

Confirmation Hearings

The Senate Health Education Labor Pensions (HELP) Committee and the Senate Finance Committee will hold confirmation hearings on Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary nominee, Xavier Becerra. The confirmation hearings are likely to spur contention from Republicans on both committees.

HELP will hold hearings on Tuesday and the Finance Committee will hold hearings on Wednesday.

Hearings on Capitol Hill this week include:

Monday, Feb. 22 Tuesday, Feb. 23 Wednesday, Feb. 24 Thursday, Feb. 25 Friday, Feb. 26  
House Budget Committee: Markup Of: American Rescue Plan Act of 2021
(Virtual Markup)
House Energy & Commerce (E&C) Committee Hearing- “Pathway to
Protection: Expanding Availability of COVID-19 Vaccines”
House Homeland Security Committee Hearing- "Confronting the Coronavirus: Perspectives on the COVID-19 Pandemic One Year Later" House Committee on Technology- Building Back the U.S. Research Enterprise: COVID Impacts and Recovery
Senate HELP Hearing: Consider the nomination of Xavier Becerra, of California, to be Secretary of
Health and Human Services
House Appropriations Comm - "Health and Wellness of
Employees and State of Damage and Preservation as a Result of the January 6 Insurrection"
House Appropriations Committee hearing- “Ready or Not: U.S. Public Health Infrastructure”
Senate Finance Committee - Hearing Consider the Nomination of Xavier Becerra, of California, to be Secretary of Health and Human Services

State

Governor Ricketts

Governor Ricketts announced during a press conference on Monday that Nebraska now has $200 million in emergency rental assistance available to ensure housing stability during this unstable time. Nebraskans who make up to 80% of the local median income, and who can show that they lost income due to the pandemic, are eligible to receive the rental assistance.

Nebraska Legislature

The first year of the biennium (the next two years) has not only the longest session (90-days), but also is the year that the lawmakers — specifically, the Appropriations Committee members — are required to design a two-year budget.

While Nebraska continues to report tax receipts that are higher than expected, jockeying over every last dollar for new programmatic funding requests is challenging.

Last week, the Appropriations Committee finally released their preliminary budget. This budget is not binding, and it does not indicate what they believe are the most important priorities for the state.

As we comb through the proposal, the committee is already well underway with hearings for every state agency — HHS (Agency 25 on Wednesday and Thursday) — and all other legislative spending proposals before making a formal recommendation.

Both what is in and not in the budget is sparking much of the conversation — all of the Governor’s budget priorities, and no Medicaid provider rate increases.

However, in the preliminary budget, the Appropriations Committee allocated an unspecified $260 million over the next two years for post-hearing adjustments and any legislation that would require spending. In his budget, Governor Ricketts proposed $235.6 million in specific spending priorities and initiatives:

Last Week’s Bill Hearings

Last week, Children’s testified on Senator McCollister’s LB129 bill. The bill provides continuous eligibility for all children enrolled in Medicaid, regardless of fluctuations in their family’s income. This means that if parents receive a Christmas bonus or small pay raise, the child’s ability to receive care for preventive services or chronic disease management won’t be jeopardized. The bill was heard before the HHS Committee.

Also last week, Children’s monitored hearings before the Judiciary Committee for both COVID-19 immunity bills (LB139 and LB52) and LB53, which creates a standard of care for future public health emergencies.

  • Supporters came by the dozens for LB139, with only a few offering support for both bills (NHA being one). Trial attorneys and the AARP were among those in opposition.
  • Senator Lathrop closed on his bill, LB52, with concern that COVID-19 immunity is even necessary to consider before the Legislature. Especially without retroactivity — which is unconstitutional, according to the Nebraska Supreme Court — the bill may be old news by the time the Legislature advances it, assuming that it does.

This week’s hearings include, but are not limited to:

Tuesday, Feb. 22 - RECESS DAY Tuesday, Feb. 23 Wednesday, Feb. 24 Thursday, Feb. 25 Friday, Feb. 26
LB281 (Albrecht) : Require child sexual abuse prevention instructional programs for school students and staff Agency 25 (HHS) Hearing before Appropriations Committee Agency 25 (HHS) Hearing before Appropriations Committee LB284 (Cavanaugh): Provide requirements regarding federal funds under the Governor's Emergency Program
LB166 (Geist): Provide for Josh the Otter-Be Safe Around Water Plates and provide powers and duties for the Game and Parks Commission LB464 (Bostar): State intent regarding behavioral health aid funding LB426 (HHS): Require DHHS to conduct a cost analysis for capital improvement and structural changes at the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center Kearney LR27CA (M. Hansen): Constitutional amendment to provide legislative authority in emergencies resulting from a pandemic
LB215 (Hughes): Change 911 service surcharge provisions LB225 (Hilkemann) Increase rates for developmental disability providers LB585 (Vargas): Appropriate funds to local public health
departments
LB231 (Hunt): Prohibit conversion therapy
LB483 (M. Cavanaugh) Increase funds to Division of Developmental Disability LB625 (Vargas): Impose a surtax on certain taxable income and use the tax proceeds for early childhood education LB120 (Hunt): Prohibit discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity
LB247 (P. Brooks) :Create the Mental Health Crisis Hotline Task Force LB680 (Linehan): Change the corporate income tax rate
LB392 (Stinner) : Adopt the Prescribing Psychologist Practice Act
LB115 (McCollister): Impose sales tax on candy and soft drinks, and provide for distribution of proceeds

If you personally are aware of a bill and would like to add your expertise, feedback, questions, please contact Liz Lyons at llyons@childrensomaha.org.

Key Dates

Monday, January 25th First Day of Public Hearings – 9:00 a.m. start
Tuesday, February 16th Nebraska Forecasting Advisory Board Meeting
Thursday, March 4th Appropriations Budget due to the Legislature
Tuesday, March 16th Deadline for committee and senator priority bill designations
Thursday, April 29th Budget bills must be on General File
Wednesday, May 19th Budget bills must be passed
Thursday, June 10th Last Day of Legislative Session – Sine Die (Day 90)(tentative)
Sunday, June 13 - June 18th Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) Family Advocacy Day

Child Health Champion Advocacy Team

Please join the Children’s Child Health Champion Advocacy Team every Thursday at 7:30 a.m. for a 30-minute call.

Advocating for children is extremely important at all stages. This internal group of stakeholders — comprised of providers and experts across the continuum of care at Children’s — meets weekly to ensure we are leading the discussion on child advocacy in the region.

Learn more about our advocacy and legislative work in our community.
Advocacy & Outreach

If you are interested in joining the movement, contact Liz Lyons at llyons@childrensomaha.org for more information.

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