May 08, 2020

Cardin, Foreign Relations Democrats Unveil Comprehensive COVID-19 International Response and Recovery Act

WASHINGTON – As the Senate reconvenes despite the continued spread of coronavirus, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) joined Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democrats in introducing comprehensive legislation to provide an additional $9 billion in funding to help support international efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.  The COVID-19 International Response and Recovery Act (CIRRA) is aimed at compelling the Trump Administration to constructively engage with other countries, international organizations, and multilateral fora to stop the spread of COVID-19, which will continue to exacerbate the United States’ public health and economic crisis without a coordinated global response.

“We are in the midst of a global pandemic. This virus does not recognize borders or check a victim’s nationality. While we care for and protect Americans at home, we also have an obligation to engage around the world to stem the health, economic and social challenges others are facing with COVID-19 or there will be serious consequences for our nation and people,” said Senator Cardin. “A global, multilateral response is the strongest response to such a global threat. At a different time, the U.S. would be a leader of such efforts, guiding the world successfully through its time of need. The Trump administration has shown itself to be incapable of such a role, having abdicated global leadership many times over. In the absence of leadership from the White House, Congress must work in a bipartisan way to force the Trump administration to engage with other nations in a comprehensive manner that will save lives while benefiting both humankind and America’s national security.”

Senator Cardin introduced the legislation alongside Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.)

The bill proposes a series of wide-ranging reforms including: U.S. participation in the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which is working to accelerate the discovery of a vaccine for COVID-19; the immediate restoration of U.S. funding to the World Health Organization, and the payment of U.S. arrears to international organizations and institutions critical to the global fight against COVID-19; increased humanitarian assistance; and the re-establishment of a position within the National Security Council with responsibility for global health security emergencies.

A copy of the COVID-19 International Response and Recovery Act (CIRRA) may be found here. A section-by-section summary may be found here. Key provisions of the legislation include:

  • Improving American Leadership on Global COVID-19 Response:  Directs the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations to increase U.S. leadership and influence at the United Nations Security Council related to COVID-19.  Restores U.S. funding to the World Health Organization, and requires payment of U.S. arrears to the Pan American Health Organization and the World Bank Group. Authorizes $4 Billion in new funding for an array of urgent humanitarian assistance needs around the world; $1 billion for an immediate contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for the Fund’s COVID-19 response efforts; and $200,000,000 U.S. contribution to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations for vaccine discovery efforts.
  • Helping Stranded American Citizens: Better equips and prepares State Department to support U.S. citizens, including U.S. government personnel, affected by this and future pandemics. Provides for $15.7 million in FY21 funding for emergency evacuations of U.S. nationals during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Improving Global Response to Disease Outbreaks: Requires comprehensive assessments of U.S. supported health programs in foreign countries to ensure that U.S. government programs improve countries’ ability to detect, prevent, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks. Requires that U.S. Executive Director to the World Bank use the voice and vote of the United States to advocate for the establishment of a multi-donor trust fund to incentivize countries to develop and implement credible national action plans aimed at preventing, detecting, and responding to epidemics and pandemics. 
  • Protecting Peace Corps Volunteers: Adds returned Peace Corps volunteers, whose service was cut short as a result of mandatory evacuation orders due to COVID-19, to the set of qualified workers named in the CARES Act eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
  • Empowering USAID:  Designates the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as the operational lead for the international response, relief, and recovery efforts associated with outbreaks with epidemic potential, and streamlines coordination among USAID, the Department of State, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during an emergency response, something the Trump Administration has refused to do.  
  • Holding Human Rights Violators Accountable: Implements new funding priorities for Congress to support democratic institutions, human rights defenders, civil society, and others targeted in countries where government measures taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic violated human rights.
  • Protecting Women, Children, and Other Vulnerable Groups: Strengthens programs and other activities to address gender-based violence during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, and restores U.S. funding to the United Nations Population Fund.
  • Preventing Deportations of COVID-19: Temporarily Prohibits deportations to countries with weak public health systems until the Trump administration develops and implement protocols to ensure that foreign nationals are tested for COVID-19 before removal. Provision follows reports that the Trump Administration deported dozens of Guatemalan, Mexican, and Haitian nationals who tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in their home countries.
  • Ending Anti-Immigrant Policies Exposing Immigrants to COVID-19: Terminates President Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, which has left thousands of asylum seekers highly vulnerable to the transmission of COVID–19 by forcing them to live in Mexican communities close to the United States-Mexico border. Immigrants in the United States previously granted temporary protected status (TPS), deferred action, DACA or other forms of temporary status are protected and have their immigration status, period of lawful presence, and employment authorizations automatically extended while the pandemic persists. 
  • Fortifying U.S. Refugee Resettlement Process: Directs the Trump Administration to resume refugee resettlement operations and make appropriate adjustments to the annual allocation and ceiling to account for delays due to travel restrictions and the suspension of global refugee resettlement resulting from COVID-19.  Extends visas and re-entry deadlines for refugees and Special Immigrant Visa holders. Authorizes appropriation of additional funding for domestic refugee resettlement operations.
  • Supporting U.S Media Efforts to Inform, Engage, and Connect People Around the World During Pandemics: Authorizes $15,000,000 to the United States Agency for Global Media for fiscal year 2021 to enhance reporting on COVID-19, expand efforts to counter disinformation on COVID-19, increase staff, resources, and training, and enhance and upgrade information technology to respond to the pandemic.
  • Ensuring U.S. Sanctions don’t Impede Delivery of Humanitarian Relief for the People of Iran, Venezuela, or North Korea:  Instructs the Trump Administration to take all the necessary steps to ensure that sanctions imposed by the United States do not inhibit the delivery and availability of humanitarian relief and medical equipment for the people of Iran, Venezuela, and North Korea
  • Approving COVID-19 Humanitarian Assistance for West Bank and Gaza: Authorizes the use of funds appropriated for international disaster assistance to provide humanitarian assistance for COVID–19 response efforts in the West Bank and Gaza.

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