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Congress passes coronavirus legislation; president signs it into law

March 20, 2020
President Donald Trump on March 18 signed into law a coronavirus relief package that includes provisions for free testing for COVID-19 and paid emergency leave.
 
The law provides many workers at businesses with fewer than 500 employees with up to two weeks of paid sick leave if they are being tested or treated for coronavirus or have been diagnosed with it. Also eligible are those who have been told by a doctor or government official to stay home because of exposure or symptoms.
 
Businesses will be reimbursed for the full amount within three months, in the form of a payroll tax credit. The reimbursement will also cover the employer’s contribution to health insurance premiums during the leave. It’s fully refundable, which means that if the amount that employers pay workers who take leave is larger than what they owe in taxes, the government will send them a check for the remainder.
 
Under the law, those payments would be capped at $511 a day, roughly what someone paid $133,000 earns annually. The original measure called for workers to receive their full pay but limited federal reimbursement to employers to that amount.
 
Workers with family members affected by coronavirus and those whose children’s schools have closed still would receive up to two-thirds of their pay, though that benefit now would be limited to $200 a day.
 
The Senate had earlier on March 18 approved the House-originated bill. The move allowed the upper chamber to devote its full attention to passing the next relief package in response to the coronavirus crisis.
 
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans had been critical of the House-passed legislation, but they emphasized that it is urgent to get relief to the American people amid the coronavirus crisis.
 
McConnell reiterated March 18 that he would not adjourn the Senate until it passed what lawmakers are describing as a "phase three" economic stimulus package in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
 
After an initial vote the previous week, the House approved a set of changes to the legislation on March 16, clearing the path for the Senate to take it up.
 
The House legislation was negotiated between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Trump administration and the President expressed support for it.
 
To aid in social distancing, McConnell announced ahead of the final vote that senators would take precautions during the vote.
 
"What we’ll do is have a 30-minute roll call vote. We want to avoid congregating here in the well," he said. "I would encourage our colleagues to come in and vote and depart the chamber so we don’t have gaggles of conversation here on the floor. That’s particularly important for our staff here and the front of the chamber, so I would encourage everyone to take full advantage of a full 30-minute roll call vote. Come in and vote, and leave."
 
He asked members to be aware of "social distancing" as they went to the chamber and departed it and said, "With that, I think we will be able to get through the voting that will occur without violating any of the safety precautions that have been recommended to us by the Capitol Physician and others."
 
 

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