Four Executive Orders Issued as Congress Stalls on COVID-19 Package
For weeks, competing versions of a fourth COVID-19 package have been making their way through Congress. On July 27, US Senate leadership announced the details of a proposed $1 trillion Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act. Negotiations are ongoing in Congress over these provisions as well as those passed by the House in the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act earlier in July.
In the context of these negotiations, on Saturday, August 8, 2020, President Trump signed four executive orders (EOs) providing executive-based COVID-19 emergency relief in the areas of 1) temporary payroll tax deferment, 2) extended unemployment benefits, 3) eviction and foreclosure, and 4) student loans.
The first EO directs the Department of Treasury to defer withholding, deposit, and payment of the employee portion of payroll tax for employees earning less than $100,000 per year. The EO directs the term of this deferral to be from September 1 through December 31, 2020. A copy of the EO is available here.
An EO regarding the extension of certain unemployment benefits is available here. This EO directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency to allocate up to an additional $44 billion from the federal Disaster Relief Fund as a 75% federal cost share to states that request additional financial support for people whose jobs or wages have been adversely affected by COVID-19. Specifically, the EO permits a “lost wages assistance program” that authorizes any governor requesting to participate in the program to provide a $400 payment per week, which shall reflect a $300 federal contribution, to eligible claimants starting from the week of unemployment ending August 1, 2020. Participating states are required to fund the other $100 per week from either unspent Coronavirus Relief Fund or other state dollars.
Eviction and foreclosure are addressed in this EO, which directs the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control to consider measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus by temporarily prohibiting residential evictions for failure to pay rent. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is directed to prioritize federal funds that can be used in providing financial assistance for struggling renters and homeowners and to work with its grantees in ensuring that renters and homeowners are not forced out of their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A final EO, found at this link, directs the Secretary of Education to extend the option for deferments on payments on student loans through December 31, 2020. During this time, in addition to the temporary cessation of payments, all interest is directed to be waived on student loans held by the Department of Education.
Further guidance on each of these EOs is anticipated to be issued by the affected agencies, and as might be expected, these EOs have been the subject of much debate. As of the date of this article, Congress continues to work through the details and terms of a new COVID-19 package, but there is no resolution on final provisions that might be included under either the HEALS Act or the HEROES Act as proposed.