US House Passes Coronavirus Relief Bill; Senate Expected to Take Up Legislation This Week

An aid package that includes help for employees of small businesses is making its way through Congress as the coronavirus pandemic known as COVID-19 spreads across the U.S.

On Saturday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 363 to 40 to pass the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” (H.R. 6201), which the U.S. Senate is expected to take up this week.

President Donald Trump tweeted Friday that the measure has his full support, the same day in which he declared a national emergency, freeing up $50 billion in resources:

“This bill will follow my direction for free coronavirus tests, and paid sick leave for our impacted American workers,’ he wrote. “I have directed the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Labor to issue regulations that will provide flexibility so that in no way will Small Businesses be hurt. I encourage all Republicans and Democrats to come together and VOTE YES!”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also tweeted Friday that the legislation was “about testing, testing, testing.” The latest package is in addition to an $8.5 billion aid deal passed two weeks ago.

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate had not yet received a final draft of the legislation. According to NBC News, that’s due to U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who is insisting on a reading of “technical corrections” in the bill before the final version can advance.

Included in the House bill is:

  • Free testing for all Americans, which would include tests for uninsured Americans;
  • Two weeks of paid sick leave for workers of businesses with fewer than 500 employees, as well as up to three months of paid family and medical leave. The bill excludes large employers, which could exclude about 20 million workers, the New York Times reported;
  • About $1 billion for programs that provide access to meals for the most vulnerable;
  • Unemployment insurance benefits for people who lose their jobs.

Pelosi said that as the Senate moves to pass the Families First legislation, the House would “begin work on a third emergency response package to protect the health, economic security and well-being of the American people.”

On Monday, McConnell called the House’s legislation a starting point, and said Senate Republicans would also turn their focus to another relief package to help Americans dealing with financial issues, help small businesses and provide extra assistance to the healthcare system and medical professionals.

“Discussions are already underway on these key pillars,” he said. “The Senate is eager to work with the Administration and the House to deliver the solutions our nation deserves.”

Senate Democrats have also proposed a new $750 billion aid package to increase hospital capacity and boost unemployment insurance, among other measures, the Associated Press reported.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to President Trump and congressional leaders on Monday asking for a three-month reprieve on payroll taxes, as well as an easing of restrictions on loans for businesses with fewer than 500 workers, the AP added.

The Brewers Association, which represents the interests of small and independent beer companies, is lobbying its congressional allies to support small businesses and small breweries. Those efforts, BA president and CEO Bob Pease, told Brewbound include:

  • A delay of the April 15 federal excise tax deadline;
  • An increase in funding for the Small Business Administration for low-and no-interest loans;
  • Immediate loan payment deferment on SBA loans without accruing interest;
  • Loan payment deferment on SBA loans without accruing interest;
  • Up to two months of loan deferments with no interest accruals;
  • Paid quarantine leave for employees of businesses shut down due to quarantine.

“We are heavily engaged with our congressional champions in Washington on Capitol Hill right now about the impact of COVID-19 on small business and small breweries,” Pease said last week.

Pease added that the BA is doing everything possible “to make sure we’re part of those discussions, and that if there is anything coming from the federal government, that it goes to small breweries as well as other small businesses.”

Meanwhile, the Consumer Brands Association (CBA), formerly known as the Grocery Marketers’ Association, has made its own set of recommendations to President Trump. In a letter following a meeting between Trump and a large set of food and beverage industry executives Saturday, CBA President and CEO Geoff Freeman made the following suggestions “where the industry would appreciate your administration’s leadership, so we may better meet the needs of American families”:

  • Funds in upcoming emergency supplemental appropriations bills to mitigate supply chain disruptions;
  • Coordination with state governors to ensure that gathering restrictions do not affect the operations of manufacturing facilities producing essential goods;
  • Establishing an Office of Supply Chain to coordinate across agencies to allow the movement of essential goods;
  • Including personal care, hygiene, cleaning, disinfecting, and sterilization products as purchasable through programs like Pandemic-Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and other federal programs, as well as an increase in funding to offset additional costs;
  • Suspending for six months new regulatory decisions that could hinder supply chains.

Worldwide, there are more than 179,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, more than 78,00 recoveries and 7,000 deaths, according to John Hopkins University. There are now more than 4,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S., with more than 70 deaths, 42 of which occurred in Washington state.

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