After several days of back and forth, the House of Representatives passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, HR 6201, on Friday night. The House vote was 363 to 40. The Senate left on Thursday but is expected to take the legislation up this week after canceling their one week break.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, negotiated all day Thursday through Friday on this second Coronavirus package. It was believed that a deal had been reached by the early morning hours of Friday, but negotiations continued into the evening.
House Republicans waited for a sign of approval from the President despite the fact that Secretary Mnuchin was the Administration’s representative and chief negotiator. During the President’s Friday afternoon press conference, he withheld any praise from a deal negotiated, but a few hours after that press conference, a final bill was released.
The emergency measure includes many of the original provisions of the Thursday deal but adds in a temporary 6.2 percent increase in each state’s Medicaid matching rate. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that it will add about $35 billion to state budgets over the coming year.
Beyond the Medicaid match increase, other funding increases include several nutrition programs:
• Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) $500 million;
• The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) to assist food banks– $400;
• EBT cards provided funding to replace school meals in a public health emergency in which schools are closed;
• Nutrition assistance for the territories;
• Senior meals including both congregate, and home-delivered meals;
One of the key features is emergency paid leave. The leave will be reimbursed to employers through tax credits with employees allowed up to two weeks of paid sick leave.
Employees will also be eligible for leave at a reduced rate to care for a family member or for the care of a child whose school has closed. The full description is here.
Congress already passed an emergency spending bill of $8.3 billion earlier this month, but most of that money went to HHS and its agencies, including the CDC. Funding was also provided for state and local health departments. This bill is focused on the people most directly affected, such as people taking sick leave, the unemployed, and families and children in need of help due to loss of income or access to schools.
There is still a great deal of need that has not been included in the bill, and at times, during the negotiations, Speaker Pelosi indicated that a third bill would have to include measures that were dropped to get this bill done. Other concerns include child care, housing, and homelessness-related issues, additional health care coverage through Medicaid and other programs, and the needs of a range of vulnerable populations, including child welfare.
The Congress is likely to delve into a third coronavirus bill that would focus beyond this immediate deal. The next package will likely target some of the hardest-hit industries and small businesses, targeted tax refunds to more general populations to put dollars back into the economy, and targeted human services relief to programs not addressed in this package.