Washington – Democrats in the U.S. House were trying to win Republican support Thursday for a sweeping coronavirus bill that would spend billions on emergency provisions, including paid sick leave and enhanced unemployment insurance.
But no deal could be reached, leaving Friday the earliest the House could vote on the multi-billion bill aimed at helping American weather the pandemic.
The package, crafted in part by Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, a senior House appropriator, would extend free coronavirus testing for the uninsured, 14 days of paid sick leave and up to three months of paid family and medical leave.
The first massive package to address the coronavirus pandemic was approved by Congress last week in a hugely bipartisan vote. That $8.3 billion bill would bolster the resources of federal and state health agencies battling the pandemic. But the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” approved by the House today ran into a poisonous partisan wall, with Republicans balking at some of the provisions.
The new coronavirus legislation would provide an additional $2 billion to boost state unemployment insurance programs, would spend more than $1 billion in nutritional aid — including increasing food stamp benefits and expanding senior nutrition programs — and provide a new federal sick leave program for workers affected by the outbreak.
The bill would require all employers to provide up to 14 days of sick or family leave. In exchange, employers would receive a federal tax credit for about 90% of the cost of providing that leave.
The package would also increase the federal share of Medicaid spending, blunting the impact of COVID-19 to a state’s Medicaid program, known as HUSKY in Connecticut.
DeLauro said the “economic stimulus package is directly targeted at helping working people and families who are being affected by the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.”
“In particular, I am proud to have helped craft provisions to provide paid sick days and paid leave for all employees affected,” she said.
DeLauro said that, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises those who are sick to stay home, 27% of private sector workers do not have paid sick days, especially in service industries.
“That is why we included an emergency 14 paid sick days for everyone during this public health emergency, as well as longer term paid leave for those who experience severe symptoms and need more than 14 days to recuperate,” she said.
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, lauded the legislation’s proposed protections of health care workers. It would mandate the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to develop emergency safety standards to protect those who come in contact with COVID-19 patients through their jobs.
Courtney said he recently receive a phone call from an emergency medical technician in eastern Connecticut who said “there’s nothing here as far as (safety) guidance.”
Courtney said “there’s clearly a pressing need” for the federal government to come up with a protocol to keep health care workers safe.
“If they get sick, we’re up the creek,” he said.
Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, said the final package may not please everybody.
“This is not the final answer,” he said. “As the situation develops we will probably consider other options.”
Meanwhile the first layoffs tied to the coronavirus have been reported by workers who have lost their jobs in the airline and travel industries and other service sectors.