House Democrats Reveal Coronavirus-Response Package

WASHINGTON (CN) — Countering economic plans from the White House centered on a payroll-tax cut, congressional Democrats unveiled an economic response to the coronavirus outbreak Wednesday that includes paid sick leave and expanded unemployment insurance.

The proposal from Democrats comes a day after the White House pitched Senate Republicans on a wide array of proposals, including a payroll-tax cut, paid-leave programs and relief directed at industries struggling with the economic consequences of the burgeoning outbreak.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks with reporters on Dec. 3, 2019, in Washington, on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The plan Democrats put forward on Wednesday is split into two parts — one set of proposals aimed at giving assistance to workers and people directly impacted by the outbreak, and a second of broader economic relief proposals. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the immediate priority is on the first set of proposals, while the second package consisting of small business and disaster-relief grants, housing support and rental assistance could come “a little further down the road.”

The paid-sick-leave proposal would require companies to immediately make available 14 days of paid sick leave for employees in the event of a public health emergency, while also requiring up to a week of paid leave that workers could earn gradually.

“Right now, experts are telling people ‘stay home if you’re sick,’ but for too many people, staying home from work means losing a paycheck or losing their job,” Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., told reporters Wednesday. “And that has to change, and it has to change fast.”

The plan would also expand emergency unemployment insurance, making it available to people who miss paychecks because of the outbreak, and it would expand food-stamp benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The House is expected to pass some provisions of the package as early as Thursday, and Schumer was hopeful the Senate could even take up the proposals by the end of the week before a planned weeklong recess.

“We’re telling President Trump, and we’re saying to the country, the best way to deal with the economic problems is focus on the people who have suffered from this virus,” Schumer said Wednesday. “Not some scattershot approach that the ideologues in the White House may want.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters Wednesday that House committees are working on legislation that could be released later this afternoon ahead of a floor vote Thursday.

It remains unclear what economic responses to the coronavirus outbreak might earn bipartisan support, as Senate Republicans do not appear to have coalesced around a particular proposal.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi spoke by phone Wednesday morning on potential legislative responses to the coronavirus outbreak, a Pelosi spokesman said. Pelosi and Mnuchin also met on Tuesday, after the White House team met with Senate Republicans.

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