WASHINGTON, DC – Five days after the U.S. House of Representatives voted 363-40 to approve the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the U.S. Senate finally voted 90-8 to approve the measure and are sending it to President Trump’s desk to be signed into law. The bipartisan bill is designed to bolster the federal government’s response to the accelerating novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and address the impacts the virus is having on Americans’ health and financial security. The package includes critical resources to ensure free coronavirus testing, paid emergency leave, enhanced Unemployment Insurance (UI), increased federal Medicaid funding to states, expanded food aid, and other key measures.
There is no fixed cost attached to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, because the final price tag will depend on how many people need free testing, how many workers and small businesses require emergency assistance with paid sick leave, and other factors. But according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, the price of providing tax credits to businesses for paid leave alone will cause the federal government to forgo about $105 billion in lost federal revenue. And the cost of providing free testing and covering a larger share of Medicaid expenses could cost about $57.6 billion according to some estimates.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act builds on the $8 billion coronavirus appropriations supplemental that was enacted on March 6 and is the second in a series of major coronavirus relief measures that Congress is working on. The next package will be a massive economic stimulus package to pump money into the economy and help working-class Americans and could have a $1 trillion price tag.
“This is a national emergency, not time for intra-party squabbling among Republicans. It is inexcusable that Congressional Republicans needlessly slow-walked this crucial assistance in the midst of a crisis while they debated amongst themselves,” said Senator Reed. “People are hurting and this relief package will help them. It ensures free testing for anyone whose doctor says a test is needed and provides paid sick leave to workers who wouldn’t have otherwise had access to it. This isn’t about scoring political points, it is about competence, decency, and doing the right thing. The Republican leadership needs to understand that this is an emergency. They can vote ‘no’ if they want, but they should let the Senate move forward and help the American people.”
Senator Reed called for the Senate to immediately take up a bigger, bolder, and more comprehensive economic stimulus package: “The case for a major economic stimulus is clear. The Senate should already be further along with that bill, but I’m worried Majority Leader McConnell is planning to draft this bill without meaningful Democratic input. Right now, he’s working off the President’s list, which is focused on big industry bailouts rather than workers, small business, and rational help for specific industry sectors. My focus in the next coronavirus stimulus bill is fairness for those without a paycheck, small businesses trying to do the right thing for their employees, and boosting public health. We need to get the best bang for our buck, and I want the Senate to work together and as long as it takes until a bipartisan stimulus deal is completed and sent to the President.”
Key elements of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act approved today and 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.
“The Administration must ramp up testing and people who need to be tested shouldn’t forgo it because they can’t afford it. Adequate testing protects the entire community,” noted Senator Reed.
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. Small businesses (defined as having 50 employees or less) would be reimbursed for providing the 14 days of additional paid sick leave. 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. The bill provides additional funds to states that experience a ten percent increase in unemployment.
“Expanding unemployment benefits is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do because it will help people get through their hour of greatest need while pumping money back into the economy and keeping small businesses open and bigger businesses from laying off even more employees,” said Senator Reed.
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.