House bill that would provide coronavirus sick leave, free tests in flux

Lawmakers were huddling Thursday evening to hash out the details of coronavirus legislation, in the hope of passing the relief package for families and workers later in the night.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were in talks throughout the day to update the bill to address the White House’s concerns. Pelosi expressed a sense of urgency to pass legislation to help families in need before the House leaves town for a one-week recess.

Meantime, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell bashed the House’s plan as an “ideological wish list” and said the Senate will return to work next week in Washington to deal with whatever the House sends over — negating any chance for immediate action from Washington.

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“The speaker is still negotiating with [Secretary] Mnuchin,” fumed Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “The House hasn’t even sent a bill over and Leader McConnell sends everybody home during a crisis. That is so wrong.”

Pelosi unveiled the House Democrats’ plan late Wednesday to provide free coronavirus testing, paid sick leave, expanded food assistance and more unemployment funding.

But the White House raised serious concerns and President Trump panned the legislation of being too chalked with “goodies” that Democrats have wanted for the last 25 years.

Trump had wanted a payroll tax cut that Pelosi didn’t include. Republicans also raised concerns about the expansiveness of new paid sick leave programs and not including language to ban federal funds for abortion.

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Determined to get something over the finish line to help workers deal with the economic hardships of the spreading pandemic, Pelosi continued to negotiate with Mnuchin to find some solutions.

Their first phone call took place at 8:24 a.m. and the two spoke for 16 minutes on language recommendations from the Trump administration, Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill tweeted. Pelosi and Mnuchin spoke at least seven times Thursday, with follow-up calls at 9:12 a.m, 11:26 a.m.,  2:30 pm., 3:50 pm, 5:39 pm and 6:07 pm, Hammill said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer advised House members to stay close as negotiations with the Trump Administration on the worker relief package was still ongoing.

“Votes are expected in the House today,” Hoyer’s office said in an email blast. “Further information regarding the exact timing of votes will be announced as soon as it becomes available.”

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The plan House Democrats introduced late Wednesday night would:

  • Ensure free coronavirus testing for everyone, including the uninsured. Requires private insurers, Medicaid, Medicare to pick up all the testing costs for their patients. 
  • Requires all employers to give workers up to 7 days of paid sick leave and provide an additional 14 days during a public health emergency. The legislation would reimburse small businesses – under 50 employees – for the costs of providing the 14-day leave for coronavirus emergencies.
  • Create a new federal emergency paid leave program through the Social Security Administration for workers absent for 14 days or more because they are infected or quarantined with the coronavirus. The monthly benefit is worth up to two-thirds of their monthly earnings up to $4,000 and would last for up to three months. Caregivers and parents home with children out of school/daycare could also qualify.
  • Provides $1 billion for emergency grants to states to administer unemployment compensation and authorizes full federal funding for extended unemployment benefits in states with unemployment that spikes past 10 percent.
  • Boosts food assistance funds to food banks, senior meal delivery programs and low-income pregnant women or mothers who are laid off due to the COVID-19 emergency.
  • Authorize emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to households with children who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals who are now home for coronavirus closures.
  • Loosen qualifications for SNAP food stamp benefits, including suspending the work and work training requirements, so more food is available during the public health emergency.
  • Calls for the development of occupational standards to protect frontline health workers from contracting the virus.

Fox News’ Chad Pergram contributed to this report.

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