The Senate just passed the second coronavirus relief package that cleared the House last week. The President signed the relief measure into law on Wednesday.
The bipartisan bill includes free coronavirus testing for every American who needs it, including the uninsured. It will also provide emergency paid sick leave and expand unemployment insurance. Congress already passed an $8.3 billion aid package two weeks ago to help fund research and vaccine development.
Here’s are the main provisions of the current relief package:
- Free coronavirus testing: It makes coronavirus testing free to increase access by requiring private health insurers (plus government programs like Medicare and Medicaid) to cover the cost of testing, including emergency room visits and doctor fees. This will also cover Americans without insurance.
- Emergency paid sick days: It gives workers 14 days of paid sick leave to be available immediately during the coronavirus (many employers are asking employees to work from home for that amount of time). It ensures sick leave to those impacted by quarantine orders, or those who must stay home to care for their children. The bill reimburses small businesses (those with 50 or fewer employees) for the cost of the 14 additional days of leave.
- Emergency paid leave: The bill would create a new federal emergency paid leave program for those unable to work because they have Covid-19, are quarantined, are caring for someone with the disease, or are caring for a child due to coronavirus-related school closings. Eligible workers would receive benefits for a month (the program goes up to three months), and the benefit amount would be two-thirds of the individual’s average monthly earnings. Those receiving pay or unemployment compensation directly through their employers aren’t eligible. There is some precedent for this: Congress expanded unemployment benefits for up to 99 weeks for Americans left unemployed by the 2008 financial crisis.
- Expanded unemployment insurance: The bill would direct $2 billion to state unemployment insurance programs and waive measures like work search requirements or waiting weeks to those either diagnosed with Covid-19, or those who have lost their jobs due to the spread of the virus.
- Expanding food security: The bill would direct $1 billion to expanding access to programs like SNAP, WIC and the emergency food assistance program throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Some economists have long believed that expanding existing safety net programs is a highly effective way of stimulating the economy because the low-income people who benefit from them are highly likely to immediately spend any extra money they get — helping stabilize economy-wide demand. The 2009 stimulus bill featured many provisions along these lines.
Congress’s response to the coronavirus is far from over. Congress and the White House have been busy putting together an economic relief package that will likely target specific industries for assistance and potentially give direct cash to individual citizens. The details are very much in flux and some have stated it could cost more than $1 trillion. The final bill could be unveiled at any time.
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