Biden Admin Extends Covid Public Health Emergency

Biden Admin Extends Covid Public Health Emergency

By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Happy Wednesday! Suspected Brooklyn subway shooter Frank James was arrested today. Here’s what else is going on.

Biden Announces Another $800 Million in Military Aid for Ukraine

President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that he has approved another $800 million in military aid for Ukraine, bringing the total in U.S. security assistance pledged to the country to roughly $2.5 billion since the Russian invasion in February, and $3.2 billion since Biden took office.

“This new package of assistance will contain many of the highly effective weapons systems we have already provided and new capabilities tailored to the wider assault we expect Russia to launch in eastern Ukraine,” Biden said in a statement. “These new capabilities include artillery systems, artillery rounds, and armored personnel carriers. I have also approved the transfer of additional helicopters.”

The aid will reportedly include 11 Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters that were originally intended for Afghanistan, 18 howitzers, 300 armored vehicles, 500 Javelin missiles and 40,000 artillery rounds.

In addition to providing direct aid, Biden said the U.S. would help facilitate the transfer of military aid from other countries to Ukraine.

Biden noted that the Ukrainian military has used the equipment the U.S. has already provided to “devastating effect” against Russian forces. In a conversation with President Volodymyr Zelensky, Biden assured the Ukrainian leader that the U.S. would continue to support his country.

Moving quickly: U.S. officials said that they wanted to act in time to help Ukraine defend itself against a Russian offensive that’s expected to come in the next few days or weeks.

“There’s a sense of urgency,” a defense official said Wednesday, according to Defense One. “Clearly we understand as the Russians begin to refocus their efforts on the Donbas and in the south, that they are prepared to concentrate the force and the combat power they have available to them that time is of the essence.”

The defense official said that the new weapons could start reaching Ukrainian hands within 48 hours.

Biden Administration Extends Covid-19 Public Health Emergency

The Biden administration on Wednesday extended the Covid-19 public health emergency that had been due to expire on April 16. The 90-day extension, announced by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), will allow millions of Americans covered by government health insurance programs or private insurers to continue getting free tests, treatments and vaccines.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra has said that he will provide at least 60 days’ notice before ending the emergency that was first declared in January 2020. The declaration has since been renewed eight times, though some public health experts have said that this could be the final extension as the nation transitions to treating the virus as endemic. Republicans have called on the Biden administration to end what many in the GOP have criticized as “a permanent state of emergency.”

“The emergency,” Roll Call’s Ariel Cohen explains, “has made it easier for 13 million to 16 million more Americans to access health insurance coverage under Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, expands access to telehealth services, makes it easier to sign up for health insurance, and allows agencies to fast-track authorization for COVID-19 treatments, tests and vaccines at the Food and Drug Administration, among other flexibilities.”

Separately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that masks will still be required on commercial flights and other public transportation until at least May 3. The agency said it was extending the mandate while it “assesses the potential impact of the rise of cases on severe disease, including hospitalizations and deaths, and healthcare system capacity.”

Why it matters: The official end of the public health emergency, whenever it comes, may be a welcome signal that life is returning to normal, but it will also put millions of Americans at risk of losing their health insurance because states will no longer be prohibited from removing people from their Medicaid rolls.

Americans with insurance will also be subject to increased costs. "We've all had access to coverage and we've been able to tap into the availability of Covid-19 testing, treatments, and vaccines, largely at no cost during the public health emergency, but not all of these items will continue to be free when the public health emergency ends," Dr. Juliette Cubanski, deputy director of the Kaiser Family Foundation's Medicare policy program, told Reuters.

Uninsured Americans already face being charged for Covid testing — reportedly $100 or more in some cases — and could find it harder to find free vaccines now that a separate pool of funding for some emergency pandemic programs has run out. The bipartisan $10 billion pandemic funding package negotiated recently in the Senate does not include $1.5 billion requested by the White House to cover testing and treatment for the uninsured.

Warren to IRS: Why Have Audits of Low-Income Taxpayers Increased?

Despite pledges from the Biden administration to focus more of the IRS’s attention on high-income households, the audit rate for taxpayers earning less than $25,000 has nearly doubled in the last year according to a recent study — and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) wants to know why.

In a letter written with Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), Warren asked IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig to explain the increase in the audit rate. “We know the IRS suffers from underfunding, and we are working to secure substantial, permanent funding so the IRS can take on the tax cheating of giant corporations and the ultra-wealthy,” the lawmakers wrote, according to Bloomberg News. “But, we also urge you to move swiftly to end the targeting of low-income Americans, in line with the administration’s commitment.”

Warren and Chu cited data from an analysis by researchers at Syracuse University showing that the audit rate for households earning less than $25,000 went from 0.79% in the 2020 fiscal year to 1.3% in the 2021 fiscal year — with both exceeding the audit rate of 0.45% last year for households earning between $200,000 and $1 million. Echoing other critics, the duo said they are concerned that the IRS is auditing low-income households simply because those reviews are cheaper and easier to do.

The lawmakers asked the IRS to reply to their inquiry by April 25.

Quotes of the Day

“I mean, we need more money. We’re already seeing the consequences of not having enough money. We’re not ordering more monoclonal-antibody treatments, and, in fact, they’ll start to run out at the end of May. We don’t have enough of Evusheld, which is the very effective treatment for the immunocompromised. We have doses for the next several months, but if we don’t order more, get more funding soon and order more doses, we’ll start to run out. We have enough booster shots for the decision that was recently made to cover people 50 and over. But if there’s a determination based on the science that comes later in the year, in the fall, that all Americans need boosters, or — as was discussed at the FDA — that we need a different booster, a variant-specific one with a new formulation of the vaccine, we have no inventory, and we need to be ordering that, and we need the funding.”

– Former White House coronavirus-response coordinator Jeff Zients, who stepped down last week, in an interview with New York Magazine’s Gabriel Debenedetti.

“Throughout 2020 and well into 2021 there was a reasonably-held view that fiscal policy would be persistently more profligate. After Senator Joe Manchin put the kibosh on the Build Back Better plan this thesis no longer looks so persuasive. Adding to this, the high likelihood that the Republicans win control of the House of Representatives in this year’s midterm elections further weakens the chance of any significant change in fiscal policy over the next two years.”

– J.P.Morgan economist Michael Feroli, in a research note to clients Wednesday detailing how — aside from inflation — many aspects of the U.S. economy and fiscal policy now look little-changed compared with 2019.

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