The proposals introduced Wednesday seek to provide some relief to predominantly hourly and low-wage workers.
House Democrats introduced a coronavirus relief bill Wednesday night that includes free coronavirus testing, paid sick leave for workers, food security assistance, and expanded unemployment insurance. By Thursday morning, Republicans in Congress and the White House had already indicated they would not support the proposal.
The package aims to help those Americans most likely to suffer economically as the global coronavirus pandemic worsens. The measures included in the bill are:
- Free coronavirus testing for everyone who needs a test, including the uninsured
- Paid emergency leave covering two-thirds of wages for most workers, up to $4,000 a month. The proposal includes 14 days of paid sick leave and up to three months of paid family and medical leave per worker.
- $2 billion to expand unemployment insurance, which would add protections for furloughed workers
- An additional $1 billion in funding for food security programs, including food stamps, student meals, Meals on Wheels, and food banks
- Protections for healthcare workers and other workers who are in contact with patients exposed to coronavirus or who are responsible for cleaning at-risk places
- Increased federal funding for Medicaid to help states offset higher costs.
Together, the proposals seek to provide some relief to predominantly hourly and low-wage workers. The outbreak has already caused job layoffs with more expected, and the U.S. is the only developed nation in the world that currently does not guarantee workers paid sick leave, which has raised concerns that millions of low-wage American workers might feel pressure to keep going to work even if they’re sick. Nearly six in 10 Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck and can’t afford to miss work, a reality that could cause the coronavirus to spread quickly among these populations.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi highlighted the urgency of the matter in a statement on Wednesday evening.
“We cannot fight coronavirus effectively unless everyone in our country who needs to be tested knows they can get their test free of charge. We cannot slow the coronavirus outbreak when workers are stuck with the terrible choice between staying home to avoid spreading illness and the paycheck their family can’t afford to lose,” Pelosi said.
Republicans were quick to pour cold water on the emergency effort. Politico reported that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Republican lawmakers on a conference call Thursday morning that the party will oppose the Democratic coronavirus bill. He later took to Twitter to call the Democrats’ proposal “unworkable” and told reporters during a press conference that he believed they could reach a bipartisan deal in the next 48 hours. “This is not a time to panic by any means,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy’s efforts at reassurance come as the virus continues to spread. The pandemic has sickened more than 127,800 people in 111 countries, killing at least 4,718. More than 1,200 Americans have tested positive for the virus, though the real number is likely much higher, given the United States’ failure to create a widely available test. Thirty-seven Americans have died so far.
President Trump also tried to reassure Americans and took several of his own steps during a Wednesday night address to the nation. In his speech, Trump said the Small Business Administration would provide loans to companies affected by the outbreak and said the Internal Revenue Service would defer some tax payments. Trump also urged Congress to pass a payroll tax cut, an idea that has been met with skepticism and opposition from both parties in Congress. He also announced a convoluted 30-day ban on most travel from Europe. The ban, which takes effect Friday, exempts American citizens and permanent legal residents and their families.
Trump’s speech did little to reassure investors, as the stock market plunged once again on Thursday, with the Dow dropping 1,911 points (8%) and the S&P 500 and Nasdaq each falling by about 8% as of 12:30 EST on Thursday.
“We cannot fight coronavirus effectively unless everyone in our country who needs to be tested knows they can get their test free of charge. We cannot slow the coronavirus outbreak when workers are stuck with the terrible choice between staying home to avoid spreading illness and the paycheck their family can’t afford to lose.”
While Trump’s focus continues to remain on helping corporations through the turmoil, Democrats have insisted the initial focus should be on workers. Democrats can still pass the bill on their own in the House, but if the Republican-backed Senate and White House feel similarly to their colleagues in the House, the bill stands no chance of passing. One White House official indicated to the Washington Post that reaching an agreement with Democrats was unlikely.
“While the Pelosi draft addresses critical issues that are important to the administration and the American people, it will take serious commitment for a bipartisan, bicameral solution from all parties in order to arrive at a good result,” the official told the Post.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), a key ally of Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, indicated the Senate would not even take up the House bill until after the upcoming recess ends.
“The Senate will act when we come back and we have a clearer idea of what extra steps we need to take,” Alexander told reporters on Thursday.
The Senate goes on recess tomorrow and does not resume until March 23.
The situation is fast-moving, however, and Pelosi herself told reporters on Thursday that she had been in touch with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who she said suggested “very reasonable” changes to the legislation.
Pelosi also appears determined to move forward, reiterating the urgency to reporters and telling them she would bring the bill to the House floor for a vote on Thursday.
“People are sick and some people are dying in our country,” Pelosi said. “We don’t need 48 hours, we need to make a decision to help families right now.”