Friday afternoon House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that Democrats had reached an agreement with the Trump administration and would soon be passing a bill intended as a coronavirus relief package. Pelosi announced the deal in a Dear Colleagues letter:
Today, the House is taking the next step to put Families First. 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…
This legislation is about testing, testing, testing. To stop the spread of the virus, we have secured free coronavirus testing for everyone who needs a test, including the uninsured. We cannot fight coronavirus effectively unless everyone in our country who needs to be tested can get their test free of charge.
That’s a bit of political spin by Pelosi. There’s actually a tremendous amount in the bill that has nothing to do with testing, as the Washington Post reports:
The agreement is primarily aimed at expanding the safety net to cope with the potentially catastrophic economic impact of the coronavirus. The plan would dramatically increase several benefits, particularly family medical leave and paid sick leave, while also bolstering unemployment insurance; spending on health insurance for the poor; and food programs for children and the elderly, according to a Friday morning draft of the agreement obtained by The Washington Post.
The biggest change is a new paid sick leave guarantee for those impacted by the coronavirus, and reaching agreement on this issue was one of the final sticking points to reaching a deal. Under the draft, which aides cautioned was subject to change, employers would be required to provide 14 days of paid sick leave at “not less” than two-thirds their regular rate. They would qualify for the benefit if they are sick and have to be quarantined or treated for coronavirus, or if they have to leave their jobs to take care of a family member who has coronavirus. Workers would also be eligible for paid sick leave if they have to stay home because they have a child whose school or childcare facility has closed due to the coronavirus.
Congressional aides raised concerns that pushing these new benefits onto employers might bankrupt many businesses already trying to contend with the financial blow from coronavirus. Instead, the legislation gives employers a tax credit equal to “100 percent” of paid sick leave wage benefits they have paid out. The amount of paid sick leave wages that can be paid out is capped at a maximum of $511 a day per employee, or $7,156 for the entire calendar quarter.
I honestly don’t think anyone knows or can accurately predict where the financial part of this crisis is going. Entire industries are being shut down, schools and colleges are being shut down, at some point Congress itself may need to shut down (the Canadian Parliament just shut down for at least five weeks). It’s not possible to anticipate what a shutdown like this will do to the economy as retail businesses deal with a lack of customers and some people face layoffs. The potential impact could go way beyond a few weeks of paid sick leave.
That’s not an exucse for doing nothing of course. Maybe this bill really will provide some stability and needed flexibility for a few weeks. But whether this is proportional to the problem we’re facing three weeks from now is a wild guess at this point. Only time will tell us if we’re following the path of China, Italy, or God forbid, Iran.
Here’s Pelosi’s four-minute announcement of the deal:
Update: Here’s Trump’s statement on the bill.