Washington – The U.S. House of Representatives early Saturday approved a massive coronavirus spending bill that would give Connecticut more than $400 million in additional Medicaid funding and guarantee all workers two weeks of paid sick leave and up to three months of paid family and medical leave.
The multi-billion dollar bill would also provide free coronavirus testing for anyone who needs it, including the uninsured, and it would boost unemployment benefits, foods stamps and other nutrition programs.
It would provide additional emergency funds under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for “households with children who would otherwise receive free or reduced-price meals if not for their schools being closed due to the COVID-19 emergency.”
The bill, approved on a bipartisan 363-40 vote, now heads to the Senate, which is expected to approve the package on Monday. The wide-ranging bill is the result of intense negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
As the coronavirus epidemic grew this week, President Donald Trump resisted backing many provisions in the legislation, preferring instead that Congress consider a bill to cut payroll taxes for both workers and employers. Just hours before the deal was announced, Trump suggested in a Rose Garden address that he wasn’t on board, complaining Democrats were “not doing what’s right for the country.”
But late Friday, after declaring a national emergency, Trump tweeted support for the bill.
“I will always put the health and well-being of American families FIRST. Look forward to signing the final Bill, ASAP!” the president wrote.
There have been about 2,100 confirmed U.S. cases of coronavirus – including 12 in Connecticut at a low testing rate – and the illness has killed at least 48 people in other states. The virus has roiled the stock market, upended small businesses and large industries alike, and caused the cancellation of major sporting and political events around the country. And no one can say with any certainty when the disease will abate.
“It should not, and must not, take a pandemic to get working people the economic relief and stability they need.”U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, worked on the sections of the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” involving nutrition aid and paid leave time. But the new programs in the bill will expire after a year.
After the vote, DeLauro said she would continue to push for permanent paid sick leave.
“On sick days and paid leave, these are temporary measures,” she said. “While this will help millions, millions are still left out. So, I will build on these programs. It should not, and must not, take a pandemic to get working people the economic relief and stability they need.”
Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, said, “Today, due to Rosa DeLauro’s leadership, Americans will have access to paid Family and Medical Leave.”
“No one should take a financial hit because they needed a coronavirus test. No worker should have to choose between staying home sick and losing their paycheck,” Larson said.
The package would mandate all employers to provide 14 days of paid sick leave at “not less” than two-thirds a worker’s pay. Employees would qualify for the benefit if they are sick and have to be quarantined or treated for coronavirus, or if they have to leave their jobs to take care of a family member who has coronavirus. Workers would also be eligible for paid sick leave if they have to stay home because they have a child whose school or childcare facility has closed.
Employers would receive a tax credit for 100% of the cost of giving their employers paid leave. The amount sick leave wage that could be paid out would be capped at $511 a day per employee, or $7,156 for the entire quarter.
Under existing law, employers are required to give “job protected” medical leave for up to 12 weeks. The coronavirus bill would provided workers who need more than 14 days to recover from coronavirus or who need to take care of family members up to three months of paid family and medical leave at two-thirds salary.
Last week, Congress approved a $8.3 billion bill will boost the resources of federal and state health agencies. Pelosi said approval of the latest coronavirus bill and the legislation Congress passed last week is a robust response.
“Between these two bills, we have provided a stimulus to the economy,” she said.
Pelosi said there will be a third bill considered soon that will focus on help to businesses hurt by by COVID-19. That third coronavirus bill could also, potentially, include a version of the payroll tax cut sought by the president.
“No one should take a financial hit because they needed a coronavirus test. No worker should have to choose between staying home sick and losing their paycheck.”
U.S. Rep John Larson, D-1st District
The bill the House approved in the early hours of Saturday would increase the federal share of funding for Medicaid, known as HUSKY in Connecticut, by 6.2%. Currently, Connecticut and the federal government share the cost of most HUSKY funding on a 50-50 basis.
Besides increasing food stamp money for for families with children who have free or reduced-priced meals, the bill would give school districts new flexibility to be able to deliver meals or distribute them outside the school if it is closed.
There is a program that allows free meals to be served in this manner, but it only lets that happen in places where more than 50 percent of the student population is eligible. The new bill would grant waivers so that any child who qualifies for nutrition assistance can actually get it.
In Connecticut, about 200,000 school children receive free or reduced price meals, about 40 percent of the state’s K-12 students.
Connecticut’s Democratic lawmakers hailed House approval of the bill, which allows members to return to their districts for a week.
“The ripple effects made by COVID-19 may be felt for months, and we need to help eastern Connecticut families, schools, businesses and others to brace for any economic and social impacts made as we take precautions to help folks stay healthy and safe,” Rep. Joe Courtney, D-3rd District, said.