The Biden administration released its National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness, a 200-page blueprint for the federal government to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 plan is in addition to the powers and flexibilities that come with the ongoing federal emergency declaration for the pandemic, which has been renewed every 90 days since the onset of the pandemic and which HHS expects to renew again shortly. The plan includes twelve initial executive actions meant to implement the following seven goals:
- Restore trust with the American people.
- Mount a safe, effective, and comprehensive vaccination campaign.
- Mitigate spread through expanding masking, testing, data, treatments, health care workforce, and clear public health standards.
- Immediately expand emergency relief and exercise the Defense Production Act.
- Safely reopen schools, businesses, and travel while protecting workers.
- Protect those most at risk and advance equity, including across racial, ethnic and rural/urban lines.
- Restore U.S. leadership globally and build better preparedness for future threats.
The following components of the plan are of particular relevance to the disability community:
Executive orders leveraging the Defense Production Act: These orders would boost supply chains for vaccines, PPE and testing. In addition, Politico Pro reports that insurance companies may soon be required to cover COVID-19 tests given as part of back-to-work and back-to-school screening programs, because of an executive order President Joe Biden signed Thursday. While access to more supplies would address some challenges providers of disability supports have faced while trying to keep individuals they support and staff safe, it is important to note some broader political and logistical challenges the administration plan faces. Notably, Politico Pro also flagged that:
- About a dozen red-state governors have vowed to defy any effort to mandate statewide face coverings, saying it should remain a personal choice or up to local communities. But some might now do more to encourage masks.
- Conflicting accounts of supply totals have bedeviled federal and state health officials, complicating the new administration’s sweeping pandemic response plan and casting fresh doubts on how long it will take Biden to bring the virus under control.
The creation of two federal coordination offices:
- The COVID-19 Response Office will be responsible for coordinating the pandemic response across all federal departments and agencies.
- The COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, which seeks to address the disparities of the COVID-19 pandemic by focusing on vaccine distribution for high-risk groups, and ensuring equity to COVID-19 PPE, tests, therapies and vaccines.
An executive order on worker health and safety: The order largely focuses on instructing the Department of Labor to work with states to ensure occupational safety and health plans offer adequate protection against COVID-19
Executive orders enhancing access to nutrition assistance: Food insecurity and restrictions on using food delivery services while receiving federal nutrition assistance have been particularly challenging for people with disabilities during the pandemic. Two executive orders would help relieve these challenges:
- Increasing the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) requirement by 15 percent. P-EBT connects low-income families with kids with food dollars equivalent to the value of the meals missed due to COVID-related school and childcare closures.
- Reviewing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s authority to allow states to provide extra Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits through Emergency Allotments to the lowest-income households. Last spring, Congress passed emergency increases to SNAP benefits to help address food insecurity during the pandemic. But those benefit increases have not been made available to the lowest-income households who make up 37 percent of SNAP households.
This infographic by Politico DataPoint summarizes the remaining executive orders. We will continue to keep members informed of key developments as the Administration continues to develop its COVID-19 response efforts.