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Washington Update

Senate Republicans Prepare ‘Skinny’ Phase IV Relief Package
As negotiations on a Phase IV COVID-19 relief bill remain deadlocked, Senate Republicans plan to introduce a ‘skinny’ relief package addressing a limited number of issues. Estimated at nearly $500 billion, half of the Senate Republicans HEALS Act and $3 trillion below the House-passed HEROES Act, the bill would extend unemployment benefits by $300 a week through December 27; appropriate $105 million for K-12 and higher education relief funding; provide liability protections, including to colleges and universities; extend $29 billion for COVID-19 vaccine and drug research and $16 billion for testing and contact tracing; offer $158 billion for the Paycheck Protect Program; and eliminate the U.S. Postal Service loan debt.

Provisions of interest to APLU institutions included in the ‘skinny’ bill are largely consistent with provisions outlined in the HEALS Act. Yet the draft legislation does not include research relief funding for federal science agencies and makes no mention of the National Institutes of Health, which received $15.5 billion, $10 billion of which is designated for research relief, in the HEALS Act. As a reminder, APLU’s analysis of the HEALS Act is available here.

The legislation is expected to be introduced when the Senate returns from recess after Labor Day, so bill text is subject to change. Continued attempts by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to restart negotiations have reportedly been unsuccessful with significant disagreements over the size of a relief package.

USCIS Implements DHS Guidance on DACA
On August 24, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provided guidance on how the agency will implement Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf’s July 28 memorandum regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy.

Under the new guidance, USCIS “will reject all initial DACA requests from [applicants] who have never previously received DACA and return all fees. The rejections will be without prejudice, meaning aliens will be able to reapply should USCIS begin accepting new requests in the future from aliens who never before received DACA. USCIS will continue to accept requests from aliens who had been granted DACA at any time in the past and will also accept requests for advance parole that are properly submitted.”

Student Loan Relief Provided Through CARES Act Extended through 2020
Based on President Trump’s August 8, 2020 executive order, the Department of Education will extend the student loan relief provided under the CARES Act through December 31, 2020. Borrowers with federally held student loans will continue to have their payments automatically suspended without penalty, and the interest rate on all federally held student loans will be set to 0 percent, through December 31, 2020.

Further, collections on defaulted, federally held loans will continue to be halted, and any borrower with defaulted federally held loans whose employer continues to garnish their wages will receive a refund of those garnishments. Each month that a borrower works full-time for a qualifying employer will also count toward their 120 payments required by the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and as a payment that is required to receive forgiveness under an income-driven repayment plan.

APLU and AAU Submit Comments to Copyright Office on Sovereign Immunity
Today, APLU and the Association of American Universities (AAU) submitted joint comments to the U.S. Copyright Office in response to their request for feedback on copyright infringement and state entities. The Copyright Office is undertaking a study at the request of Senators Tom Tillis (R-NC) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) on the extent to which copyright owners are experiencing infringement by states without adequate remedies under state law.

The study follows the Supreme Court’s decision in Allen v. Cooper which held that Congress did not validly abrogate state sovereign immunity through the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act. The decision preserved the application of state sovereign immunity to copyright infringement claims.

In the comment letter, APLU and AAU argue that subjecting public universities to liability for copyright infringement is unnecessary as there is scant evidence public institutions intentionally violate copyrights, that there are remedies available other than financial damages, and ultimately costs of litigation would detract from our education, research, and engagement mission.

Chad Wolf Nominated to Serve as Secretary of Homeland Security
President Trump announced that he will nominate Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf to the Senate-confirmed position of Secretary of Homeland Security. Wolf has served in his current capacity since November 2019.

This announcement comes on the heels of the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) finding that Wolf “was invalidly appointed to the role of acting secretary, the result of an illegally altered line of succession.” The GAO has referred this issue to the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security for further review. Politico reports that Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, plans to hold a hearing on Wolf’s nomination, though a date has not yet been scheduled.

  • Council on Governmental Affairs

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