WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) today announced several major legislative wins in the government funding agreement and COVID-19 relief package which Congress overwhelmingly passed on Monday. Cassidy voted in favor of the $900 billion coronavirus legislation and $1.4 trillion omnibus bill, which included a provision to end surprise medical billing that Senator Cassidy championed through Congress. The package now heads to President Trump’s desk for his signature.
“There is an urgent need in Louisiana to help families, small businesses and frontline workers who are suffering. Congress came together to deliver critical relief for them. Though this legislation cannot restore all that has been lost, it puts our nation on track to recovery as we near the end of this pandemic,” said Dr. Cassidy. “Aside from COVID-19 relief, I’m proud to have secured a fix for surprise medical billing after more than two years working across the aisle to end this unfair practice. Patients no longer have to fear being stuck with outrageous medical bills after a visit to the hospital.”
Important provisions in this year’s government funding and COVID-19 relief package that Senator Cassidy helped secure include:
- Cassidy worked with Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) to include provisions to end the practice of surprise medical billing in the government funding package. Senators Cassidy and Hassan have led efforts to address surprise medical bills for the last two years.
- The Mental Health Parity Compliance Act of 2019 introduced with Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) improves transparency and accountability to help consumers have access to mental health and substance use services included in their plans. It would strengthen compliance with mental health parity laws by requiring issuers or plans to submit comparative analyses upon request from federal oversight agencies.
- The Know the Price Act introduced with Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) ends the use of gag clauses in contracts between health care providers and insurers that are used to restrict a patient’s access to price information.
- The Comprehensive Immunosuppressive Drug Coverage for Kidney Transplant Patients Act introduced with Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) provides seniors who received kidney transplants with extended Medicare Part B to help cover lifesaving medication. This legislation does away with the coverage time limit, ensuring that individuals who received a kidney transplant paid for by Medicare do not have to worry about coverage for medications and protect their transplant.
Tax Relief for Louisiana Families and Businesses
- Senator Cassidy’s bicameral lookback legislation with Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and U.S. Reps. Mike Kelly (R-PA) and Brian Higgins (D-NY) ensures low-income families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic can use their wages reported in their 2019 tax return to compute the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) sections on their 2020 tax return. This legislation helps low-income workers who would have reported lower wages in 2020 to receive higher refunds this filing season.
- The Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020 authored by Cassidy and Sens. John Kennedy (R-LA), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) provides tax relief to the individuals, families, and small businesses in presidentially-declared disaster areas, including those impacted by Hurricane Laura, declared on or after July 1, 2020, through the period ending 60 days after the date of enactment.
n Removes penalties on early withdrawals from retirement accounts so folks can access their savings to help cover the cost of certain storm-related expenses.
n Provides a tax credit for employee retention during business interruption.
n Encourages charitable giving to affected areas, by suspending limits on deductions for certain contributions.
n Creates special rules for qualified disaster-related personal casualty losses.
n Allows low-income workers to use their previous year’s income to claim certain tax credits, ensuring that they do not lose access to the credits or receive a lower amount.
- Senator Cassidy helped secure more family-focused economic impact payments in the COVID-19 relief package. Unlike in the CARES Act, each family member will receive a one-time payment of $600 in direct cash assistance, with adults and children receiving the same amount each. A family of four would receive a total of $2,400. The payments include eligibility for U.S. citizens married to foreign nationals to receive EIPs but does not include eligibility for foreign nationals or ITIN filers.
- Local trade and professional associations are now eligible for assistance under the Paycheck Protection Program. 501(c)(6) associations and Destination Marketing Organization are major drivers of Main Street economic development and include entities such as regional chambers of commerce, nursing professional organizations, state certified public accountant societies, state restaurant associations, and tourism and hospitality leagues, among others.
- Hard-working Americans that were granted temporary relief from troubled debt restructurings under the original CARES Act will now have extended coverage until Jan. 1, 2022.
- Senator Cassidy was instrumental in securing and structuring $2.75 billion for private and parochial school relief, which is included in the broader $82 billion set aside for education relief to support in-person learning in the COVID-19 package.
- Senator Cassidy also achieved forgiveness for capital financing debt held by all Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) institutions. In Louisiana, this will result in more than $100 million forgiven between Grambling State University and the Southern University System.
- Key provisions of Senator Cassidy’s LEADING Act were included in the bipartisan energy package. Among the provisions that made the package include strengthened definitions of natural gas and natural gas generation facilities that will allow DOE to more closely examine natural gas plants for carbon capture. It also requires DOE to identify barriers to commercial development of carbon capture technologies and ensures that a broad range of technologies and electric generation facilities are chosen for pilot and demonstration projects.
- The Technology Transition Act codifies the Office of Technology Transition, which works to advance and expand technology transfer and commercialization efforts within the Department of Energy (DOE). The bill would prioritize and provide structure to an office that aims to govern the DOE’s role in efficiently developing next generation technologies.
- Several provisions of the Energizing Technology Transfer Act introduced with Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) made it into the final package, including:
n Lab partnering service pilot program
– Similar to DOE’s existing Lab Partnering Service (LPS), this section authorizes DOE to provide an online platform and in-person services to facilitate information sharing about national lab resources, facilities, expertise, and IP.
n Streamlining prize competitions
– Authorizes a program to provide central expertise within DOE for planning and administering prize competitions.
n Milestone-based demonstration projects
– Gives DOE the authority to carry out demonstration projects using a tiered, pay-for-success model, in which multiple entities can compete to receive funding for a demonstration project if they meet certain technical and financial milestones, and only receive funding if they successfully meet such milestones. Based on an existing model at NASA, proposed for adaptation in the nuclear energy industry.
n Other transaction authority extension
– Removes the September 2020 sunset on DOE’s existing other transaction authority, which provides DOE flexibility to carry out certain projects in partnership with the private sector outside of typical contracting mechanisms.
- The COVID-19 relief package includes $7 billion for rural broadband funding to promote access to telehealth and an expansion of services to rural areas and low-income families.
- Senator Cassidy helped secure $300 million for a broadband deployment grant program at NTIA to support broadband infrastructure deployment to areas lacking broadband, especially rural areas. The grants would be issued to qualifying partnerships between state and local governments and fixed broadband providers. Priority for grants would be given to networks that would reach the most unserved consumers.
Senator Cassidy also helped push through $250 million to the FCC to carry out the temporary telehealth pilot program authorized under the CARES Act. It also puts in place new transparency obligations for the program surrounding the FCC’s review of applications, and directs the Commission to ensure, to the extent feasible, that all states benefit from the program.
Other major highlights in the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act include:
- $280 billion to expand the Paycheck Protection Program.
- Simplification of loan forgiveness application process and enhancement of borrower flexibility.
- $8.75 billion for vaccine distribution, administration and ensuring Americans’ access.
- $22 billion for testing and contact tracing.
- $20 billion for vaccine, therapeutic and diagnostic programs.
- $3 billion to the Provider Relief Fund to be dispersed to hospitals.
- $1.6 billion for mental health services block grants.
- Additional $300-per-week in emergency unemployment benefits extended for 11 weeks.
- Eviction moratorium extension through January 31, 2021.
- $25 billion fund for emergency rental assistance.
- $10 billion to the Child Care and Development Block Grant.
- Extension of refundable payroll tax credits for paid sick and family leave through the end of March 2021.
- $15 billion grant program to support live venues, theaters, museums and zoos that were closed.
- Extension of timeframe for already-distributed $150 billion in CARES Act funds to be used by state and local governments.
- $11 billion for farmers and ranchers.
- $45 billion in transportation assistance, including passenger airlines, airports, transits, highways, and passenger rail and vessels.