A Sunscreen Provision That Has Nothing to Do With Coronavirus Made Its Way Into Congress' $2 Trillion Stimulus Package

Tucked away in the historic $2 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress to help the nation rebound from the coronavirus outbreak is a non-pandemic-related provision about sunscreen.

The clause, which starts on page 470 of the massive bill, includes language that will ensure the Food and Drug Administration can review new, more innovative ingredients for over-the-counter sunscreen.

The provision also includes an update to the 2014 Sunscreen Innovation Act, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell co-sponsored at the time. He noted in a news release then that it would benefit consumers, as well as Kentucky workers who manufactured such skincare ingredients in the state. McConnell's office said the measure was reached through bipartisan negotiations. A L'Oreal spokesman said the company does not make sunscreen products in its Florence, Kentucky manufacturing facility.

Steve Ellis, president of budget watchdog Taxpayers for Common Sense, told Newsweek it's not unheard of that an unrelated provision "catches a ride on a must-pass vehicle" moving quickly through Congress. The 2008 bank bailout package, for example, included provisions for very narrow special interests like NASCAR racetracks and rum manufacturers.

"This one seemed relatively clean," Ellis said. "It wasn't until I saw sunscreen and wondered what the heck that was doing in the bill that then led me to figure it out that they just attached a totally different piece of legislation into the bill."

The sunscreen provision itself isn't controversial. It originally passed in the Senate by a 91-2 vote and has been on the chamber's to-do list for a year. But Ellis said that it was "not appropriate" for Congress to dump it into a critical package focused on the pandemic and that it could embolden other lawmakers to try something similar with upcoming measures related to the virus outbreak.

But sunscreen wasn't the only non-coronavirus provision that made its way into the stimulus package. The package also includes comprehensive reforms to the regulation of over-the-counter drugs, including increased FDA oversight of the nonprescription drug sector.

Democrats advocated for $150 million for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Those organizations award grants to museums and artists around the country. Other special-interest measures are economic relief for travel agents and casinos.

Asked whether the funding allocated to support the arts would be better used to support hospitals, President Donald Trump said he approved of it.

"The Kennedy Center has suffered greatly, because nobody can go there. It's essentially closed," Trump told reporters in a press conference. "They do need some funding. I said, 'Look, that was a Democrat request. That was not my request.' But you've got to give them something."

covid-19 stimulus bill sunscreen provision
The U.S. Capitol is reflected in a standby ambulance on March 27. The House of Representatives is expected to vote soon on the $2 trillion stimulus bill that was passed by the Senate earlier in the week. Alex Edelman/AFP/Getty Images

The $2 trillion legislation is the biggest fiscal stimulus package in modern U.S. history. When passed, it will provide a massive financial boost to help American workers, small businesses and industries that have been hit hard by the virus' outbreak.

Key elements of the package include sending $1,200 checks directly to individuals and families, expanded unemployment benefits, and assistance for hospitals and health care providers. The package also includes $500 billion in loans for small businesses.

The United States now has more confirmed coronavirus cases than any other country, including China. The outbreak has caused some states to shut down nearly all activity, which has resulted in a surge of jobless claims. Such claims have risen to 3.3 million, according to Department of Labor data released Thursday.

Update: This story has been updated to include comment from Senator McConnell's office that the provision was reached through bipartisan negotiations.