How COVID-19 Has Affected Government Operations
By ALPA Staff
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted operations across all sectors of the economy, and government operations haven’t been immune to its effects. The Canadian Parliament and U.S. Congress have had to adapt to the new realities brought about by the pandemic.
In Canada, Parliament was suspended on March 13 due to the growing concern of the spread of COVID-19. Since then, Parliament has been recalled on a number of occasions, with a limited number of Members in the House of Commons, to pass various government COVID-19 relief-related emergency measures and the legislation associated with them.
Since April 20, however, Parliament has been sitting as an all-party committee, the Special COVID-19 Committee, to examine the federal government’s response to the pandemic with the Senate also returning to pass the various legislation coming out of the House.
Only a handful of House and Senate committees have been meeting on a regular basis during this time to further study and report on the government’s response to COVID-19. In the House, Agriculture and Agrifood; Finance; Health; Government Operations and Estimates; Indigenous and Northern Affairs; Procedure and House Affairs; Human Resources, Skills, and Social Development; and the Status of Persons with Disabilities Committees have convened. In the Senate, Finance and Social Affairs and Science and Technology are two key committees that have been meeting regularly.
On May 26, Parliament voted in favour of suspending regular sittings of Parliament until September. As part of that agreement, the Special COVID-19 Committee increased its meetings to four days a week through mid-June and will sit four times over the summer.
In the United States, Congress began its work on COVID-19 relief with the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act (H.R. 6074), which was enacted on March 4. Washington, D.C., lawmakers then began preparations for additional funding. The day after President Trump declared a national emergency on March 13, the House voted to pass legislation for billions of dollars in relief designed to prop up the economy. The Senate passed the bill on March 18, and it was quickly signed into law by the president. The Senate immediately began work on a third round of stimulus funding. After negotiations with Members of the House, Congress reconvened on March 27 and voted to pass the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
After passing the CARES Act, Members of Congress largely avoided Washington in April, aside from passing nearly $500 billion in funding for hospitals and small businesses late that month. Instead, they worked remotely from their homes. In-person meetings went virtual, and congressional hearings transitioned to video town halls. Constituent services became the key focus, with many members personally fighting to find personal protective equipment and other desperately needed supplies for individuals in their districts.
On May 4, the Senate gaveled back in session and senators returned to the Capitol, while House representatives extended their recess, citing the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the nation’s capital. The House came together in mid-May to vote on the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, an additional $3 trillion spending package. The Senate has yet to take up the bill, and negotiations for another round of COVID-19–related spending are ongoing.