House readies coronavirus response bill

Washington D.C., Mar 13, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The House on Friday readied a bill for passage to fund a response to the Coronavirus pandemic, including free virus testing and paid sick leave.

In a press conference on Friday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) noted the “grave and accelerating challenge” of responding to the virus, and pushed for the passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201).

Republican leadership was working with House Democrats on Friday afternoon to resolve issues with the text of the legislation, but was holding on to concerns that the legislation would not accomplish enough regarding family medical leave.

Earlier concerns over abortion funding in the bill were reportedly resolved Thursday.

On March 12, the Daily Caller had reported that White House officials accused Pelosi of setting up a funding stream in the bill that would be exempt from the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding of abortions. POLITICO then reported later on Thursday that the abortion issue would be resolved in a separate bill to be voted on by the House at the same time as the Coronavirus stimulus.

By Friday, the issue had been resolved: “Abortion funding is not an issue anymore,” an aide to Republican leadership told CNA on Friday afternoon.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Friday, there are more than 1,600 cases of Coronavirus in the U.S. in 46 states and the District of Columbia, with 41 deaths as a result of the pandemic.

The three most important parts of the bill, Pelosi said, are “testing, testing, testing,” with free virus testing for those in need, including the uninsured. The initial U.S. response to the virus has been criticized for a lack of availability of effective testing.

Pelosi also noted that the bill includes two weeks paid sick and family medical leave for those affected by the virus, as well as support for unemployment insurance and strengthening food assistance for children who rely on school lunches, and food banks.

President Trump declared a National Emergency on Friday, saying it would open as much as $50 billion in aid to U.S. states and territories.

In a statement on Thursday, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City highlighted various policies in the legislation that had been previously supported by the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference, including provisions for food security, paid sick leave, and assistance for the unemployed, low-income workers, and the homeless.

Archbishop Coakley also encouraged Congress to suspend work requirements for food stamp benefits in light of the instability of certain industries due to the pandemic.

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