Congress passes coronavirus aid bill

Washington D.C., Mar 18, 2020 / 03:35 pm (CNA).- Congress has passed a second bill responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, including paid leave for coronavirus-related reasons for many Americans.

On Thursday, the Senate overwhelmingly voted to pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), a $2.5 billion stimulus package. The White House has previously said that President Trump would sign the legislation.

The House passed the stimulus package early on Saturday morning by an overwhelming vote of 363 to 40. Of those voting in favor, 140 Republicans joined 223 Democrats while 40 other Republicans voted against the bill.

Although the bill received broad bi-partisan support, Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), James Lankford (D-Okla.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), and Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) all voted against the bill.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) was declared to be a pandemic by World Health Organization (WHO) officials last week. There are more than 7,000 confirmed cases in the U.S. and 97 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Wednesday.

Among other provisions, the bill helps fund free Coronavirus testing for all Americans and requires commercial insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Indian Health service and TRI-CARE plans to cover testing diagnosis without cost-sharing.

Additionally, the legislation requires businesses with fewer than 500 employees to provide 14 days of paid sick leave for employees who are infected with the virus, are under quarantine, are caring for a family member with the virus, or who have children sent home from school closings.

“The vast majority” of businesses with more than 500 employees already provide paid sick leave, House Republican leadership said, commenting on the bill, but the New York Times editorial board reported on Saturday that some large corporations did not have an across-the-board provision for paid sick leave in their company policies.

Technical changes were made to the bill on Monday allowing for expanded tax credits for small businesses to provide paid leave, reportedly at the request of the Trump administration. Speaker Pelosi on Tuesday called for expanded paid leave in an expected third stimulus package.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday that the chamber planned to pass the House bill, but that the Senate would not adjourn for the week until “a far bolder package” was passed. 

Congress previously passed a $8.3 billion response package that was signed into law by President Trump on March 6.

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