As the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 continues to rise and concerns about possible school closures and job security grow, lawmakers have introduced the Families First Coronavirus Response Act coronavirus bill. The legislation provides families with free coronavirus testing, expand paid sick leave, and food assistance to ensure families have the support they need as the outbreak begins to cause more disruptions to everyday life.
Introduced earlier this week, the legislation allocates $400 million to assist local food banks, and $500 million to provide food to low-income pregnant women and mothers with young children who've been laid off or are unemployed. The bill would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to households with children who rely on free or reduced lunch at their schools if their school has been temporarily shut down due to containment efforts. It would also allow for low-income senior citizens, who are at higher risk to catch coronavirus, to get 25 million additional home-delivered and pre-packaged meals.
"These policies are lifelines for families, allowing them to endure unexpected circumstances without putting their health at risk or facing financial ruin," Rep. Richard Neal, one of the bill's sponsors, said in a statement. "I'm glad House Democrats quickly assembled this thorough package to complement last week’s emergency funding and keep Americans safe. We stand ready to act and meet the challenge of this unprecedented time."
Additionally, the bill allow for up to 14 days paid emergency leave, up to three months of paid family and medical leave, enhance unemployment insurance, and provide free coronavirus testing for "everyone who needs a test, including the uninsured."
Hillary Clinton urged her Twitter followers to call their representatives and demand they pass the bill.
The bill has not yet passed in Congress, but it is expected to be passed today and be presented to Senate some time next week, according to the New York Times. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Twitter Thursday that Senate cancelled the upcoming one-week recess to focus on the "bi-partisan legislation" with the hopes that it will combat coronavirus "and keep our economy strong".
"We cannot fight coronavirus effectively until everyone in our country who needs to be tested knows they can get their test free of charge," Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, said in a statement. "We cannot slow the coronavirus outbreak when workers are stuck with the terrible choice between staying at home to avoid spreading illness or the paycheck their family can't afford to lose."
EdWeek estimates that as of Friday, at least 18,000 schools across the nation have closed or are scheduled to close due to containment efforts, impacting at least 8 million students. The National School Lunch Program provided low cost or free lunches to more than 29 million children in 2018. The coronavirus outbreak has already taken a toll on the economy as hundreds of people has lost their jobs in the past week alone, according to Washington Post.
Pelosi remains optimistic that the bill will pass and give families the support they need. "Our nation, our great nation, has faced crises before. And every time — thanks to the courage and optimism, patriotism, and perseverance of the American people — we have prevailed," Pelosi said in a press conference on Friday. "Now, working together, we will once again prevail and come out stronger than before."
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.