The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act 363-40-1 early Saturday.
On Friday night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a deal with the Trump administration for an aid package from Congress that would provide free tests, sick pay for workers and bolster food programs.
“We are proud to have reached an agreement with the Administration to resolve outstanding challenges, and now will soon pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” Pelosi announced in a letter to colleagues.
On Friday afternoon, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency as the rapidly spreading coronavirus continued to tighten its grip on the world while upending everyday life in America.
Trump announced the decision at a 3 p.m. news conference in the White House Rose Garden, saying he would seek “to unleash the full power of the federal government” to stop the spread of the virus.
The declaration allows the president to invoke the Stafford Act, which frees up $50 billion in federal aid to assist in the global coronavirus outbreak.
On Friday, the toll in the U.S. stood at more than 2,000 cases and at least 48 deaths, according to news reports.
Due to the outbreak, the U.S. stock market has lost most if not all of its gains since Trump took office in 2017. Public schools and municipalities are closing across the country. Employees are working from home or being laid off, and major athletic and entertainment events are being called off until further notice.
Trump even announced he would be “working out a schedule” to get tested himself for COVID-19 after a Brazilian official who was at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort last weekend tested positive for the virus. But Trump said his motivation to get tested was not due to any interaction he had.
Before Friday, the president had expressed resistance to get tested after reporters pressed him about his potential exposure while hosting the Brazilian delegation at the Florida retreat.
“We had dinner in Florida at Mar-a-Lago with the entire delegation,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday. “But we did nothing very unusual. We sat next to each other for a period of time.” Asked then whether he should be tested, Trump replied, “I am not concerned.”
Among other measures the president announced Friday:
- Trump said 1.4 million coronavirus tests will be available to the public next week, and 5 million tests would be available by April, adding that “I doubt we’ll need that.”
- Trump said Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, who was also in attendance, had agreed to set up drive-thru testing at its store parking lots across the country.
- Trump announced that Google is developing a web portal that will help inform people where they can get mobile testing for COVID-19, according to CNBC.
- The administration would issue orders to enable hospitals and health workers to provide “telehealth” services in lieu of bringing new patients into health facilities, Trump said.
- Trump said he would waive interest payments on government-held student loans.
- Trump said the U.S. would purchase “large quantities” of oil for the U.S. strategic oil reserve.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act was signed into law Nov. 23, 1988. That law amended the Disaster Relief Act of 1974.
Trump’s emergency declaration triggers FEMA financial and physical assistance.
As the president declared the national emergency Friday, stocks surged on the news that $50 million in federal funds would be steered to combating the virus.
Meanwhile, Pelosi worked behind the scenes on a deal with the administration to approve the coronavirus funding bill.
Reports say she had spoken to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at least 10 times throughout the day.
Both have indicated that a deal was within reach.
Central to the effort is free testing for the virus and guaranteed sick pay for workers who are taking time away from jobs, along with an infusion of dollars to handle unemployment benefits and boost food programs for children, families and seniors, according to The Associated Press.
The AP reported Pelosi was waiting until after Trump’s declaration to decide on which version of the bill to advance for a vote.
Trump has not yet publicly backed the package.
As Trump took questions on the legislation, he said, “We don't think the Democrats are giving enough. They’re not doing what’s right for the country.”
Earlier Pelosi implored the Trump administration and congressional Republicans to “put families first” by backing the effort to provide Americans with relief as officials race to slow the spread of outbreak.
The administration’s federal task force managing the crisis was working furiously to break a bottleneck in the nation’s ability to test for the new virus, and weighing what sort of emergency powers Trump would need to invoke to provide needed aid to overwhelmed state and local governments.
Republican leaders are reviewing the details.
Earlier Friday, Mnuchin sounded an optimistic note. “I think we’re very close to getting this done,” he said on CNBC.
On the COVID-19 illness, Mnuchin cautioned that “people should understand the numbers are going to go up before they go down.”
Providing sick pay for workers is a crucial element of federal efforts to stop the rapid spread of the infection. Officials warn that the nation’s health care system could quickly become overwhelmed with gravely sick patients, as suddenly happened in Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus.
The potential deal between Congress and the White House would cap a tumultuous week in which Washington strained for a comprehensive response to an outbreak that is testing the nation’s political, financial and health care systems.
Also Friday, the administration awarded $1.3 million to two companies trying to develop rapid COVID-19 tests that could detect within an hour whether a person is positive for the new coronavirus.
The House aid package builds on an emergency $8.3 billion measure approved last week and is aimed at providing additional health and financial resources to arrest the sudden spread of the pandemic and the kind of economic fallout unseen in a generation. Pelosi promised in a letter to colleagues that a third package was yet to come.
The new sick leave benefit would require businesses to provide up to 14 days of paid leave, with the federal government reimbursing them through tax credits. The bill facilitates unemployment benefits for those laid off during the crisis and boosts food and nutrition programs for working families, students and seniors. Work requirements for food stamps would be suspended, and states would be given additional Medicaid funds to cope with the crisis.
Mnuchin said on Friday the president remains committed to pursuing the payroll tax cut. “It is a giant stimulus.”
Trump said he will halt his signature campaign rallies, telling reporters he needs a “little separation until such time as this goes away.” Democratic presidential rivals Joe Biden and rival Sen. Bernie Sanders said they would no longer hold large political gatherings and their staffs would work from home as the race for the presidency moved online.
— This is a developing story. Please return to AJC.com for updates. Information provided by The Associated Press was used to supplement this report.
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