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March 14, 2020 12:00 PM, EDT

House Passes Coronavirus Plan With Two-Week Paid Sick Leave, Free Testing

House Speaker Nancy PelosiHouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a March 13 press conference. (Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg News)

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The United States House of Representatives passed a legislative package meant to provide relief to people who need assistance during the coronavirus outbreak.

House lawmakers approved the Families First Coronavirus Response Act on March 14, one day after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency over COVID-19. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), passed with a 363-40 vote.

“Our top priority in this public health emergency must be providing support to the American people,” said Lowey. “With this bill, we can provide paid leave, guarantee free testing and enhance important benefits for children and families.”

The House package includes free testing for everyone who needs it, and two weeks of paid sick leave to allow people with the virus to stay home from work and avoid infecting coworkers. It also includes enhanced jobless benefits, increased food aid for children, senior citizens and food banks, and higher funding for Medicaid benefits.

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration. The legislation provides appropriations to various agencies, including the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, both of which operate nutrition programs.

Some $500 million would remain available through Sept. 30, 2021, for USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, provided that Congress designates the amount as being for an emergency requirement. The bill also provides flexibility with the agency’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for low-income jobless workers.

“I call on my Senate colleagues to recognize the urgency of this moment and put this bill on the president’s desk,” said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), who co-sponsored the bill. “The spread of COVID-19 will present increasingly severe challenges for students, workers and families across the country. We will not overcome these challenges by ignoring them.”

This legislation would build on an $8.3 billion package Trump signed into law March 6. That law, known as the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, provided emergency funds for agencies such as HHS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.

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