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U.S. House passes sweeping coronavirus aid package, including free testing


The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a sweeping coronavirus aid package that includes free testing and paid sick leave for workers, just hours after U.S. President Donald Trump declared a national emergency due to the pandemic.

A bipartisan coalition of Democrats and Republicans passed the bill just after midnight Saturday, with 363 representatives voting in favour.

The bill marks the first effort by Congress to limit the economic fallout from a pandemic that has infected over 130,000 people worldwide and killed more than 5,000 — including 50 people in the U.S., as of Friday. Every state except West Virginia has reported at least one case.

The multi-billion dollar package, which Trump expressed support for, was drafted after days of extensive negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who represented the White House.

Trump took to Twitter to say he fully supports the package, dubbed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, saying he encourages “all Republicans and Democrats to come together and VOTE YES!” The message boosted confidence the bill would pass the Republican-controlled Senate when it reconvenes next week.

“Look forward to signing the final Bill, ASAP!” Trump added.

 

Beyond free testing and two weeks of paid sick and family leave for those affected by the virus, the bill also includes enhanced unemployment benefits and bolstered food programs.

Both Democrats, who control the majority in the House, and Mnuchin made concessions, Pelosi told reporters ahead of the vote.

“We were willing to work in a bipartisan way, even though we could have gone much sooner, much faster,” Pelosi said.

Democrats had initially sought to create a permanent paid sick-leave benefit for the third of U.S. workers who currently lose wages when they stay home due to illness, but Republicans said that was a dealbreaker.


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