By Chuck Ross
The House voted overwhelmingly early Saturday morning to pass a bill that provides coronavirus testing at no cost to patients, and extends paid sick leave to workers who come down with the virus or have to go into self-quarantine.
President Donald Trump expressed his support for the bill, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Friday night as House Democrats negotiated the details of the law with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. It passed by a vote of 363-40, with all dissenting votes coming from Republicans.
Trump’s backing is seen as key to getting the Senate to sign on to the aid package.
I fully support H.R. 6201: Families First CoronaVirus Response Act, which will be voted on in the House this evening. This Bill will follow my direction for free CoronaVirus tests, and paid sick leave for our impacted American workers. I have directed….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 14, 2020
The bill requires the federal government to cover the cost of diagnostic testing for coronavirus, or COVID-19. That includes testing done by a primary care physician, at an urgent care center, or at a hospital emergency room.
The federal government has been slow to ramp up testing for COVID-19, which began spreading from Wuhan, China, late in 2019. The first infection in the U.S. was confirmed Jan. 21. As of Saturday, nearly 2,200 Americans have tested positive for the bug. Forty-nine people have died. More than 5,500 have succumbed to the virus across the globe.
The possibility for a rapid increase in cases has prompted concerns of a possible recession. The bill, if approved, will extend unemployment benefits for workers in states that are hardest hit by layoffs.
The bill also provides emergency paid leave benefits for workers who have to take two or more weeks off work either because they become infected with COVID-19, or because they are required to self-quarantine or care for sick family members.
The benefit, which is available for up to three months, will guarantee workers are paid two-thirds of their average monthly earnings, up to $4,000.
The Trump administration is enacting other measures to limit any economic downturn stemming from COVID-19.
The Treasury Department extended the April 15 deadline to file taxes, and Trump on Friday waived interest payments on student loan debt.
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