Coronavirus Relief Bill Signed into Law—Including Paid Sick Leave and Free COVID-19 Testing

On Wednesday, the president signed into law a coronavirus relief package that will provide paid sick and family leave for many Americans, as well as free coronavirus testing and strengthened unemployment insurance.

Earlier that day, the Senate passed the legislation and sent the bill to the president’s desk. In a rare showing of bipartisanship, the bill, known as the “Families First Act,” passed 90-8.

Features of the bill include:

  • free testing for those showing symptoms of the coronavirus, such as fever, cough and shortness of breath;
  • expanded unemployment insurance for those laid off by the economic effects of the virus;
  • two weeks of paid sick leave for quarantined workers or parents of kids whose schools are shuttered as a result of the epidemic, and, if needed, 12 weeks of paid leave on top of that, with the goal of helping workers recover or care for other sick relatives; and
  • an expansion of food stamps to ensure that kids don’t go hungry due to school closures.

Senators like Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) call the bill “a start.”

Similarly, Wendy Chun-Hoon—executive director of Family Values @ Work, a network of 27 state coalitions working for policies that value families at work—praised the bill for being “the first time Congress has passed paid time to care,” but explained that the bill leaves out a large portion of U.S workers who must be considered.

In a statement last week, Chun-Hoon wrote:

As a result of compromises demanded by the White House, the bill falls short of fully meeting workers’ needs. Employer thresholds in this bill will leave out several million workers. Providing two-thirds wage replacement for FMLA leave, and for caregiving under paid sick days, will not be enough for many working families as we know from evidence in the states with such programs. The legislation lacks an inclusive definition of family for caregiving purposes which could disproportionately impact seniors and people with disabilities, among others.

In addition, our small business partners have pointed out that quarterly tax credits will not reach small business owners in a timely way to keep them afloat during this economic crisis. Providing cash reimbursement immediately to these businesses would protect both the enterprise and its employees. Other provisions from the original bill, like strengthened OSHA protections and protections for frontline health workers, have also been removed.

Last week the House passed its own version of the bill, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act H.R. 6201.

The bill is the second in a three-layer approach to halting the spread of the pandemic.

The first action was last week’s $8.3 billion emergency funding bill aimed at halting the spread of the virus—allocated toward vaccine development, the purchase of much-needed medical equipment for hospitals and community health centers, and international efforts to stop the disease spread.

Further action coming down the pipeline in the coming weeks is a proposed massive stimulus measure, which would include direct cash payments to U.S. adults to help them cope with COVID-19 layoffs and closures, as well as bailouts of major industries like airlines, casinos and cruise ships—the most costly coronavirus-focused government initiative by far.

Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, has said the overall price tag of the bailout package could be around $1 trillion—making it one of the largest federal emergency packages ever created. 

The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-moving.

During this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media.

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Roxy Szal is the managing digital editor at Ms. and a producer on the Ms. podcast On the Issues With Michele Goodwin. She is also a mentor editor for The OpEd Project. Before becoming a journalist, she was a Texas public school English teacher. She is based in Austin, Texas. Find her on Twitter @roxyszal.