June 29, 2020
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Federal Issues

Federal watchdog office releases report on COVID-19 response

Last week the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report titled “COVID-19: Opportunities to Improve Federal Response and Recovery Efforts.” The GAO’s report is the most comprehensive report to date on the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It outlines the following challenges and next steps.

  • Paycheck Protection Program: The GAO reviewed the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) efforts to implement certain safeguards regarding the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), noting that the SBA has provided limited information on how it will implement them. The GAO noted that the SBA has indicated that it will review loans of more than $2 million as well as any loan it deems appropriate, adding that the “SBA had not provided us additional details—including time frames and specific review procedures—on how it would conduct its review of all loans for more than $2 million.” According to the report, the SBA has not informed the GAO of oversight plans for loans of less than $2 million.
  • Unemployment Insurance: The GAO also indicated that, as of May, states have received more than 42 million unemployment insurance claims. The GAO noted that the unemployment insurance program is intended to provide benefits to individuals who have lost their jobs, highlighting that there is currently no mechanism that could capture in real-time unemployment insurance claimants who may also be receiving wages paid from PPP loan proceeds. The GAO recommends that the Department of Labor and SBA take steps to address the risk of improper payments associated with the loans.
  • Economic Impact Payments: The GAO reported that, as of May, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Department of the Treasury had disbursed 160.4 million payments worth $269.3 billion through a combination of electronic transfers to bank accounts, paper checks, and prepaid debit cards. The GAO said that the IRS and Treasury faced difficulties delivering payments, noting that, as of April, nearly 1.1 million payments totaling nearly $1.4 billion had gone to decedents. The GAO recommends that the IRS consider cost-effective options for requiring return of incorrect payments.
  • Health Provider Flexibilities: The GAO highlighted the number of waivers and flexibilities that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has approved to expand the availability of Medicare services during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that the agency will need to “monitor such services to identify potential fraud, waste, and abuse given the temporary suspension of some of these program safeguards.” The GAO raised concerns regarding the agency’s ability to do so, noting that “whether CMS will have complete and accurate data to track utilization and spending on services furnished under the new flexibilities and waivers is not clear.” The GAO said that while CMS is requiring the use of certain identifiers, the extent to which providers will be using them is not clear.
  • COVID-19 Testing and Supplies: The GAO indicated that it will continue to examine activities related to COVID-19 testing, adding that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported “incomplete and inconsistent data” from state and jurisdictional health departments on the amount of viral testing occurring nationwide. The GAO said it is “making it more difficult to track and know the number of infections, mitigate their effects, and inform decisions on reopening.” The GAO also said that it will continue to examine the distribution of supplies, noting that federal, state, and local officials have continued to express concerns about the distribution, acquisition, and adequacy of supplies.

Contact Amy Anderson, AWB government affairs director for federal issues, to learn more.

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Now More Than Ever, Health Insurance Matters
Invest in Early Childhood Education

Fixing child-care shortage and Washington's economic recovery go hand in hand

By The Seattle Times Editorial Board

As Washington gets back to business, many job-seeking parents of young children face a frustrating double bind. Even if they do find employment that will help them provide for their family, the short supply of quality, affordable child care makes it impossible for them to take the job.

Nearly half -- 47% -- of unemployed parents cited lack of child care as a barrier to re-employment in a May survey, according to a state Child Care Collaborative Task Force child-care industry assessment. Since March, more than 1,100 licensed child-care providers have at least temporarily closed, exacerbating a shortage flagged by state lawmakers long before COVID-19...

Even before this spring's upheaval, nearly half of Washington parents reported difficulty finding and keeping affordable child care. Twenty-seven percent reported leaving a job, school or training because of a lack of consistent, affordable care, according to a Department of Commerce report.

This is not just a problem for working families; it is a drain on the state's economy. Commerce estimates that employee turnover and missed work due to child-care issues create an annual $2.08 billion drag on the state economy. That number triples when figuring in opportunity costs.

Addressing Washington's child-care shortage will not be easy, especially during the tough economic times ahead. But quality, affordable child care is a linchpin to the state's economic recovery. More must be done to ensure this essential sector does not fail.

Read the full editorial in The Seattle Times
Foreign Workers Support Our Economy

Big Tech isn't the only loser in Trump's visa freeze

By Tae Kim

On Monday, Trump signed an executive order that freezes access to a number of work visas through year-end, including the H-1B visa for highly-skilled foreigners, which is primarily given to workers in the technology industry. The issuance of new green cards will also stay halted until the end of the year. The administration said the order would free up jobs for unemployed Americans, adding it would block about 500,000 people from entering the country this year.

The move sparked an avalanche of criticism from technology companies. They said the measures will hurt their ability to recruit talent and have deeper negative ramifications for the economy.

An Amazon.com Inc. spokesperson called the order "shortsighted," adding it prevents "high skilled professionals from entering the country and contributing to America's economic recovery, [putting] American's global competitiveness at risk."

A Facebook Inc. representative said Trump is using the pandemic as justification for "limiting" immigration, which will make "our country's recovery even more difficult."

And Microsoft Corp. President Brad Smith said on social media, "Now is not the time to cut our nation off from the world's talent or create uncertainty and anxiety."

Read the full column in The Seattle Times