WASHINGTON, DC – After the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed an emergency coronavirus economic relief bill to provide tens of billions of dollars for free coronavirus testing, paid sick leave, emergency unemployment insurance, expanded food aid, and other measures to help Americans impacted by the crisis, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) is calling on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to hold a weekend vote to speed the financial assistance to those who need it. He is also calling for Congress to immediately begin work on a new, broader economic package to help deal with the financial fallout of the crisis.
The House voted 360-40 in favor of the emergency financial relief measure, which includes several key measures backed by Senator Reed to help families and businesses cope with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the House voted early Saturday morning, after lengthy negotiations between Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who urged Republicans to support the measure, the Republican-controlled Senate is planning to hold off on acting until some time early next week.
“The House did its job and now it is the Senate’s turn. This is a strong, bipartisan bill. The votes are there to pass it. The only thing lacking is Republican leadership. It is irresponsible and inexcusable for Senate Republicans to hold up this emergency relief package because they can’t be bothered to take a weekend vote. New cases are being diagnosed daily and even a one day delay could be costly at this point. This is an extraordinary circumstance and I strongly urge Leader McConnell to call the Senate into session immediately and let us vote,” said Senator Reed.
Earlier this week, Senator Reed called for a robust emergency fiscal stimulus package that includes the main tenets that are incorporated into the bipartisan legislation.
Key elements of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) backed by Senator Reed include:
Free Diagnostic Testing for Coronavirus: Requires private health insurance plans to provide free coronavirus testing and waives cost-sharing rules for testing provided to people covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and federal retirement programs. An additional $1 billion is included to test people without health insurance. To ease the financial strain on states, it also boosts federal matching funds to state Medicaid programs by 6.2 percent.
Paid Sick Leave: Establishes a temporary coronavirus-related sick leave benefit paid by employers with fewer than 500 workers. And to help small businesses, it provides federal tax credits to help offset employers' added responsibility. Under the agreement, workers with coronavirus may receive 100 percent of their wages if they test positive for coronavirus or are forced to self-isolate. Workers may also be eligible for two-thirds of their pay if they must care for family members as a result of the coronavirus crisis. The benefit is scheduled to expire at midnight on December 31.
Emergency Unemployment Insurance and Extended Unemployment Compensation: Provides $1 billion in emergency grants to help states expand unemployment insurance benefits. This funding will help states deal with larger caseloads and administrative costs as they help eligible furloughed workers obtain unemployment benefits. Also provides 100% federal funding of Extended Benefits for states with high rates of unemployment.
Expanded Food Aid & Nutrition Assistance: Provides over $1.3 billion in emergency food aid. This includes $500 million through the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program and $400 million through the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) to assist local food banks to meet increased demand for low-income Americans during the emergency. And $250 million for the Senior Nutrition program in the Administration for Community Living (ACL) to help organizations like Meals on Wheels provide approximately 25 million additional home-delivered and pre-packaged meals to low-income seniors who depend on the Senior Nutrition programs in their communities. It expands the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) authority to establish a national waiver for all affected states to continue programs for school meals and daycare meal programs during school closures. And allows those who run the programs to provide meals at off-site locations that do not require children to eat in a centralized place. It also includes protections for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) beneficiaries to ensure jobless food stamp recipients don’t lose access to food in the midst of the pandemic.
This package comes on top of an $8 billion emergency spending bill that was passed and signed into law last week to provide states with more medical supplies, increase funding for health agencies, and other measures.