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House Passes Bipartisan Coronavirus Relief Package

Despite an announcement from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that a deal had been reached with the White House, the future of a coronavirus response bill that includes free testing and paid sick leave for workers remains unclear.

WASHINGTON (CN) — After days of negotiations between Democratic leadership and the White House, the House of Representatives passed a coronavirus-response bill Friday that includes free testing and paid sick leave.

The final package includes a two weeks of paid sick leave and boosts to unemployment insurance, in a bid to allow hourly workers to stay at home during the outbreak and cushion the blow for workers laid off as a result of widespread closures and cancellations tied to fighting the spread of the virus known as COVID-19.

The House passed the measure 363-40, with all votes against cast by Republicans. Under the bill, testing for coronavirus infections would be free, including for people who are uninsured.

The legislation also includes provisions related to food stamps and school lunch programs, in an effort to help children whose schools close due to the virus maintain access to what is for many their only reliable source of food.

“As members of Congress, we have a solemn and urgent responsibility to take strong, serious action to confront and control this crisis and to put families first and stimulate the economy,” Pelosi wrote in a letter sent to House Democrats on Friday evening.

The bill is the product of two days of negotiations between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who spoke over the phone more than 20 times Thursday and Friday as they tried to hammer out a deal, according to Pelosi’s office.

It was unclear late into the day Friday whether the bill would pass, as the White House did not publicly come out in support of the package even after Pelosi announced an agreement had been reached. Trump finally broke the tension with a tweet just before 9 p.m.

"I encourage all Republicans and Democrats to come together and VOTE YES!" Trump tweeted. "I will always put the health and well-being of American families FIRST. Look forward to signing the final Bill, ASAP!"

Pelosi also said the House will work on another aid package related to the coronavirus. Congress previously passed an $8.3 billion spending package to help boost the government’s response to the outbreak.

"As we proceed with further legislation, we will do so happily under a different timetable and continue to welcome any suggestions you have," Pelosi said, in a separate letter to colleagues.

On Wednesday, House Democrats unveiled a package similar to the one announced this evening, but shelved a planned Thursday vote to undergo more negotiations with the White House. Even as President Donald Trump declared a national emergency over the outbreak Friday afternoon, it was not clear whether he or Republicans lawmakers supported the measure.

“We’re negotiating,” Trump said Friday afternoon. “We thought we had something, but all of a sudden, they didn’t agree to certain things that they agreed to. So, we could have something but we don’t think they’re giving enough. They’re not — they’re not doing what’s right for the country.”

Pelosi said while the Democrat-controlled chamber could have passed its own version of the bill, it was important to put together a package that could win support from Republicans.

"We could have passed our bill yesterday, passed our own bill, which was a great bill — and is still a great bill — because that's what we're passing today," Pelosi told reporters Friday night. "But we thought it would be important to show the American people, assure the American people that we are willing and able to work together to get a job done for them."

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