Government Relations Report – April 9, 2020: CARES Act, VMSA Proposed Rulemaking, COVID-19
Washington has been consumed with the COVID-19 pandemic, with Congress developing legislation and agencies modifying traditional policies and procedures in an effort to address the impact of the pandemic. As discussed during NMEDA’s recent member webinars, The CARES Act—a massive economic stimulus package—was signed into law in late March with the intention of addressing a host of issues related to unemployment, federal loans, and small businesses, among other things. Earlier today, the Senate unsuccessfully attempted to approve an additional $250 billion in funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, and COVID-related funding and legislative negotiations can be expected to continue throughout April. As of today, the pandemic has not delayed the VMSA’s Proposed Rulemaking comment deadline although it has delayed Congressional consideration of the VA Auto Grant-related bill.
The impact of current events on the Department of Veterans’ affairs has been considerable. All VBA regional offices are currently closed to the public and staff are attempting to minimize the disruption by conducting appointments, assisting with claims, and providing other in-person services over the phone, via email, or by utilizing video technology. As for VA medical facilities, we are aware that some locations are providing virtual services for veterans seeking automotive mobility solutions (equipment selections, final vehicle inspections, etc.) while other locations are not. VA Central Office has indicated that the utilization of virtual technologies (e.g., VA Video Connect, VA Telehealth and, in one unique instance, FaceTime) is not mandatory—it is up to each facility to decide whether or not it utilizes such options—though this may change with VA’s recent announcement that the agency is expanding virtual services to veterans during this time. NMEDA’s GR Team is working daily with VA Central Office, The Office of Connected Care, and additional divisions within the agency to (1) determine what automotive mobility-related services are being provided virtually and at which locations, and (2) increase the utilization of virtual services for veterans seeking vehicles, AAE, and related benefits and services. We will keep members updated on those efforts and share additional information as it is received.
Finally, on the state level, many Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies have transitioned employees to remote work as additional states issue “Stay At Home” orders. Automotive mobility-related VR activities are still occurring—including intakes, paperwork processing, vehicle inspections and more—although the extent of services depends on the particular VR. Please see the “State Voc Rehab” document posted on NMEDA’s COVID-19 Resource Page for state-specific information.