The day after Senate Republicans blocked an emergency paid sick leave bill, House Democrats unveiled their Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and offered Donald Trump and Republicans a lesson in what a coronavirus economic response should look like, one that will actually help the people struggling to make ends meet in the midst of a crisis. The bill includes paid sick leave, emergency unemployment benefits, food assistance, and free coronavirus testing. Although, as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pointed out in a statement, there’s still a big piece missing that the Trump administration needs to fill in. “Alarmingly,” when he spoke Wednesday night, Trump “did not say how the administration will address the lack of coronavirus testing kits throughout the United States.”
House Republicans, meanwhile, pushed to delay consideration of the Democratic bill. Delay being such a famously good response to an emergency. Are they following Trump’s “la la la I can’t hear you and if we don’t test anyone then we don’t have any people sick with coronavirus” logic?
The Democratic bill includes $500 million in special Women Infants and Children program funding for women with babies or young children who’ve lost their jobs due to the pandemic, $400 million to help food banks meet increased demand, $250 million in food assistance for seniors, and $100 million for food assistance grants to the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Northern Marianas Islands. It also “allows the Department of Agriculture to approve state plans to provide emergency SNAP assistance to 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.” It also grants waivers to allow schools to provide meals during closures to students who get free and reduced-price lunches, so that school closures to keep the disease from spreading don’t become the cause of hunger.
As Democrats pushed to expand food aid to people about to be hit by a pandemic and its economic consequences, Trump Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced that new limits on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits would go into effect on April 1—though he didn’t rule out emergency benefits. Doesn’t it seem like postponing a tightening up of food aid would be the first thing to do while you wait for emergency benefits to go into effect if what you cared about was responding to a crisis? The House bill actually suspends work and training requirements for SNAP, because making people go out to work or train is a bad idea when you’re trying to stop the spread of disease. And it allows the USDA to grant states other forms of flexibility to respond to their specific situations without causing additional suffering.
Food isn’t the only thing the Democratic bill addresses. It includes federal emergency paid leave for workers who are themselves sick, who are caring for a sick family member, or whose children are home because of school and daycare closures. “Eligible workers will receive a benefit for a month (up to three months) in which they must take 14 or more days of leave from their work due to the qualifying COVID-19-related reasons,” according to the bill summary, with benefits set at two-thirds of the worker’s wages up to a cap of $4,000.
There are also paid sick leave provisions, requiring “all employers to allow employees to gradually accrue seven days of paid sick leave and to provide an additional 14 days available immediately in the event of any public health emergency, including the current coronavirus crisis.” Expect Republican whining about the burden on employers even though the bill also “Reimburses small businesses—defined as businesses with 50 or fewer employees—for the costs of providing the 14 days of additional paid sick leave used by employees during a public health emergency.”
But what about workers who lose their jobs because of coronavirus? The bill creates emergency unemployment insurance, with $1 billion going to states to administer and expand unemployment insurance, along with the flexibility to lift waiting periods and work requirements while it’s a bad idea for people to be out looking for work.
Beyond all that, the bill covers free COVID-19 testing for Medicare and Medicaid recipients, uninsured people, veterans, and federal workers. It also calls for healthcare employers to come up with plans to protect their workers from transmission of the disease—a critical part of having enough healthcare workers who are themselves healthy enough to care for others.
Posted with permission from Daily Kos.