While the country grows more concerned about the spread of the coronavirus and more impatient about the government's handling of the problem, most apparent in its slowness in making COVID-19 testing kits widely available, the Trump administration and Congress have been discussing measures to ease the detrimental economic impacts of the outbreak.
The White House and Congress agree on several provisions of a package, but have been far apart on others. By Thursday evening, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had spoken over five times throughout the day, in an effort to come up with a bipartisan deal that could be quickly enacted. At the end of the day, Pelosi said that they were close, but not quite finished, though she hoped to be able to announce a measure Friday. At this point, the House is still scheduled to be in recess next week.
Ideas range from providing help for the industries hardest hit to ensuring people, including the uninsured, have access to free coronavirus testing.
On Wednesday night, in an Oval Office address to the nation, President Trump announced some action he would take unilaterally, while lawmakers and administration officials negotiate legislation to bolster the federal government's response to the virus.
Here is what the Trump administration is proposing or has done:
- Payroll tax holiday: The president called for a payroll tax holiday earlier this week, but bipartisan lawmakers have not been quick to embrace the idea. "I am calling on Congress to provide Americans with immediate payroll tax relief. Hopefully they will consider this very strongly," Mr. Trump said during his speech in the Oval Office on Wednesday.
- Deferral of tax payments beyond April 15 deadline without interest or penalties for certain individuals and businesses negatively impacted by coronavirus: Mr. Trump used emergency authority to get this done. "Using emergency authority, I will be instructing the Treasury Department to defer tax payments, without interest or penalties, for certain individuals and businesses negatively impacted," the president said. "This action will provide more than $200 billion of additional liquidity to the economy."
- Small Business Administration loans in affected U.S. states and territories: "Effective immediately, the SBA will begin providing economic loans in affected states and territories," Mr. Trump said Wednesday. "These low-interest loans will help small businesses overcome temporary economic disruptions caused by the virus. To this end, I am asking Congress to increase funding for this program by an additional $50 billion."
- Bailout of industries impacted by the coronavirus spread, such as airlines, hotels and cruise lines: This has been proposed by the administration but would need congressional authorization. "There may be needs to come back to Congress like we did after September 11," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told members of the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday. "This is not a bailout. This is considering providing certain things for certain industries, I would say airlines, hotels, cruise lines, I believe are the areas that are impacted."
- Paid family leave: "@POTUS has directed @USDOL to allow states to amend Unemployment Insurance to give Paid Sick Leave to those impacted by #COVIDー19. As we work w/ Congress on a larger package, this will provide relief to those who are sick, caring for a ill family member or quarantined." Mnuchin indicated that the administration is still negotiating a family medical leave provision, telling lawmakers Wednesday, "that's what's being worked out."
- Reimbursements to workers who have to stay home or to employers: "There's two ways of distributing the money. One is directly to that person in the form of a debit card or a direct deposit. The other is making sure that the companies continue to make those payments and that the company will be reimbursed," Mnuchin said. "The only difference is we're just trying to figure out very quickly mechanically how we can do it."
Here is what Congress is proposing through the Families First Coronavirus Act, introduced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
Pelosi introduced the legislation earlier this week, but it is likely to be superseded or updated by any deal that is expected. Here's what was in the original plan.
- Free coronavirus testing for all who need a test, including those without insurance
- Paid emergency leave, including 14 days of paid sick leave and up to three months of paid family and medical leave: This is one of the major sticking points. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy complained that it "forces permanent paid sick leave for all business without exemptions and no sunsets."
- Affordable treatment: This would require patients to be reimbursed for any non-covered coronavirus-related costs. It stems from the fear that the epidemic will spread because Americans will avoid treatment out of fear they can't afford it.
- Enhanced Unemployment Insurance
- Food security initiatives
- Protections for frontline workers: For health care workers and others working with infected and those exposed to coronavirus.
- Increased funds for Medicaid
In the Senate, Senator Patty Murray has introduced companion emergency paid sick leave legislation, including:
- Widespread and free coronavirus testing and affordable treatment
- Anti-price gouging protections
- Increase capacity of medical system
Republican Senators Todd Young, Steve Daines and Mitt Romney and Democratic Senators Gary Peters, Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono have also introduced a bill in the Senate to provide unemployment assistance to people unable to work due to the outbreak, including these measures:
- Provide access to disaster unemployment assistance for workers, who are sick, quarantined, furloughed, laid off, or whose individual or family circumstances have changed as a result of COVID-19
- Waive state waiting periods and work search requirements
- Set a minimum amount of assistance
- Help states in providing unemployment assistance
Kimberly Brown contributed reporting.