House Democrats have introduced a multi-billion dollar bill that includes free coronavirus testing and paid emergency leave to help those worst affected by the COVID-19 epidemic.
Called the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the package was introduced Wednesday and includes free testing for anyone in need, paid sick leave and enhanced unemployment insurance.
It also includes clear protections for frontline workers, increased federal funds for Medicaid and strengthened food security initiatives, including SNAP, student meals and seniors nutrition and food banks.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House will vote on it 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," she said in a statement. "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."
She said it is directed to offer support to families who "must be our first priority in this emergency."
The package's unveiling follows President Donald Trump's address to the nation from the Oval Office where he announced the suspension of all travel to the United States from most of Europe. He also said he directed the Small Business Administration to provide low-interest loans to companies negatively affected by the coronavirus outbreak that the World Health Organization deemed Wednesday to be a pandemic.
Pelosi and Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer criticized Trump in a joint statement for not doing more to stymie the virus' spread.
"Alarmingly, the president did not say how the administration will address the lack of coronavirus testing kits throughout the United States," they said, urging their Republican colleagues in the House and Senate to pass their Families First Act.
Specifically, the bill includes more than $1 billion for food assistance with $500 million allocated to provide food to low-income pregnant women and mothers of young children who lose their jobs due to COVID-19, $400 million for local food banks and $250 million for the senior nutrition program. It also calls for the Department of Agriculture to approve plans to provide SNAP assistance to children who receive free or discounted meals so they can continue to have food while their schools are closed.
The bill also includes requirements that all employees receive 14 days of paid sick leave.
On Friday, Trump signed an $8.3 billion coronavirus funding bill that some have said isn't enough to protect Americans from the negative effects of the outbreak.
"While the $8.3 billion coronavirus supplemental we enacted into law was a crucial step [that] stabilized our public health system, more support for working families is clearly needed," House appropriations committee Chairwoman Nita Lowery said in a statement.
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