House Democrats have unveiled an ambitious measure to provide free testing for the coronavirus, paid sick leave and strengthened unemployment insurance as a response to the worsening outbreak's economic impact on people across the United States.
For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for some, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.
The House legislation related to the virus is slated for a vote in the Democratic-controlled House on Thursday. The legislation includes:
FREE CORONAVIRUS TESTING
It requires private health insurance plans to provide free coronavirus testing and waives cost-sharing rules for testing provided to people covered by Medicare, Medicaid and federal retirement programs. It boosts federal matching funds to state Medicaid programs by 8%.
PAID SICK LEAVE
It establishes an unprecedented — but temporary — federal sick leave benefit paid through the Social Security program. Workers with the coronavirus or caring for family members with it would receive two-thirds of their wages for up to three months. The benefit would expire in January 2021.
It also creates a federally mandated sick leave benefit for private businesses that would require all employers to allow their workers to accrue seven days of paid sick leave, with an additional 14 days available immediately in the event of public health emergencies such as the current coronavirus crisis.
It provides $1.3 billion in emergency food aid for low-income pregnant women and their young children, senior citizens and food banks. It allows states to provide food stamps to make up for lost school lunch benefits if their children are kept home from school and directs $100 million of the funds to U.S. territories.
Workers laid off because of the coronavirus outbreak are already eligible for unemployment benefits, but the legislation provides $1 billion for additional caseloads and administrative costs to encourage temporarily furloughed workers to obtain unemployment benefits.