The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES Act, H.R. 6800) on May 15.
While this legislation includes many provisions of importance to the professions of audiology and speech-language pathology, the bill must still be passed by the U.S. Senate and signed by the President. At this time, both the Senate leadership and White House have indicated they are not inclined to move additional legislation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. ASHA will continue to advocate for several key provisions in the HEROES Act.
Below are some of the key highlights of the legislation.
Key Schools Provisions
- $90 billion for an Education Stabilization Fund to provide grants to states and local districts for governors to disburse to hard hit communities and for colleges and universities. This funding can be used for services provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and would prevent funding from being diverted to non-public schools—except in cases where students are enrolled as a part of an Individualized Education Plan—and requires states to provide assurances that students with disabilities are guaranteed their full rights under IDEA.
- $10.15 billion to help alleviate burdens associated with the coronavirus for both colleges and students, including provisions to ensure that all students can access financial assistance equally. This includes $11 million for the National Institute for the Deaf and an additional $11 million for Gallaudet.
Key Health Care Provisions
- $190 billion for a Heroes Fund that could enable audiologists and SLPs, in certain circumstances, to obtain $13 an hour in pandemic premium pay on top of regular wages, up to $10,000.
- $100 billion for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to support health care providers related expenses and lost revenue, with requirements to ensure that funds are distributed to providers in an equitable and efficient manner.
- Increases federal matching payments to state Medicaid programs by a total of 14% starting July 1, 2020, and ending June 30, 2021, to help states facing dire financial situations, as a result of the pandemic, to continue providing critical services.
- Prevents HHS from finalizing a Medicaid regulation that could restrict state flexibility to use Medicaid funds to most efficiently and effectively incentivize providers to ensure beneficiary access to services until the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- Includes $150 billion for nursing home strike teams to help facilities manage outbreaks when they occur and for resident and employee safety in skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), including activities to support clinical care, infection control, and staffing
- Provides incentives for SNFs to create COVID-19-specific facilities and includes safety and quality protections for patients.
- Allows $2 billion for a temporary expansion of the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Health Care Program to partially subsidize their health care providers’ broadband service.
Key Professional Practice/Workforce Provisions
- Allows a borrower with a full-time job as a health care practitioner working at a public or non-profit hospital or health care facility but prohibited by state law from being employed directly by the hospital or health care facility to be eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
- Doubles the deduction for certain unreimbursed out-of-pocket expenses for elementary and secondary school teachers from $250 to $500.
- Allocates $850 million to Social Services Block Grant to fund child and family care for essential workers.
- Eliminates provisions from previous COVID-19 laws that allowed employers of health care providers and emergency responders the ability to exclude their employees from emergency Family and Medical Leave Act leave.
- Requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue a mandatory workplace health standard to address the risk of COVID-19 infection.
- Provides $10,000 student loan forgiveness for federal and private student loans borrowers who were “economically distressed” on March 12.
- Extends the suspension of federal student loan payments and interest through September 30, 2021, and expands student loan relief to certain federal loans that were not included in the CARES Act.
Relief for Small Businesses, Independent Contractors and Individuals
- Extends pandemic unemployment insurance through January 31, 2021.
- Establishes dislocated worker grants to support training and temporary employment for those responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency including health care, direct care and frontline workers.
- Provides a second round of Recovery Rebates of up to $1,200 per individual and $2,400 per married couple filing jointly. All dependents would be eligible to receive an additional $500 per dependent, including those over age 17.
- Amends the Paycheck Protection Program to permit loans to 501(c)(6) nonprofits (e.g., professional associations) and extends the time for which funds can be used. While it does not provide additional funding, it requires 25% of existing funds be reserved for each of the following categories: nonprofits, small businesses with fewer than 10 employees, and community financial institutions that provide loans to minority owned businesses.
- Includes an additional $10 billion for Economic Injury Disaster Loan grants.
Key Patient, Client, and Student Provisions
- Provides $1.5 billion in funding for Wi-Fi hotspots and connected devices for students and library patrons to close the homework gap and $4 billion for emergency home connectivity needs.
- Funds $5 million for the purchase of assistive technology to enable interpreters to provide essential services to individuals with hearing loss.
- Fully subsidizes the cost of COBRA and furloughed workers’ premiums to allow workers to maintain their employer-sponsored coverage if they lose employment, have their hours reduced, or are furloughed as a result of the pandemic.
- Establishes special enrollment periods for Medicare and for the Affordable Care Act marketplaces.
For questions related to schools, professional practice, and small business, please contact Eric Masten, ASHA’s director of federal affairs for education, at firstname.lastname@example.org. For questions on health care and patient, client, and student issues, contact Jerry White, ASHA’s director of federal affairs for health care, at email@example.com.
Visit ASHA’s website for the latest updates and resources for ASHA members related to COVID-19, including telepractice.