(Business Insider) – In the early hours on Saturday morning, the House of Representatives passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to provide financial relief to Americans hamstrung by the novel coronavirus — which has increasingly shuttered businesses across the nation and encouraged consumers to stay home.
The measure will now head to the Senate for a vote. If it passes, the president has said he will sign the bill into law.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi initially announced that a deal had been reached between Democrats and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Friday evening. Shortly after, Trump tweeted that he supported the bill, saying he was looking “forward to signing the final Bill, ASAP!”
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act seeks to expand paid sick leave and other programs during the pandemic. Washington has dramatically escalated its response this week to the respiratory illness COVID-19, which has sickened more than 1,200 throughout the US.
The bill includes free coronavirus testing, paid leave (including sick leave) protections for frontline workers, enhanced unemployment insurance, food security measures, and increased Medicaid funding.
“The coronavirus crisis presents a grave and accelerating threat to public health and to the economic security and well-being of the American people,” Pelosi said in a statement. “As members of Congress, we have a solemn and urgent responsibility to take strong, serious action to confront and control this crisis and to put Families First and stimulate the economy.”
The legislation was meant to build on an $8 billion coronavirus response package, which was approved with overwhelming bipartisan support within a matter of days last week. It called to expand unemployment insurance and support for small businesses, potentially through loans and tax deferrals.
But Republican leaders initially objected to certain aspects of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that was proposed by Democrats a day earlier, prompting two days of behind-the-scenes negotiations between Pelosi and Mnuchin.
Key issues included how a paid sick leave mandate would be carried out, with Republicans arguing that the Social Security Administration would take six months to send out checks. Some also pushed for amendments that would set an end date for the legislation and offer certain businesses exemptions.
As concerns about the economy rose rapidly without signs of progress on the bill Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the upper chamber would no longer take a recess that had been scheduled for next week.
“I hope Congress can pass bipartisan legislation to continue combating the coronavirus and keep our economy strong,” McConnell said.
On Wednesday evening, Trump announced the Treasury Department would defer tax payments for certain people and businesses in a move that he said would add $200 billion of liquidity to the economy. But other proposals from the White House have fallen flat on Capitol Hill, such as a payroll-tax cut that critics said would be ineffective and expensive.
Policy responses from Washington have done little to ease fears about growth in the largest economy, which a growing number of experts have forecast could contract this year. Wall Street suffered its worst day since the 1987 stock-market crash on Thursday, even as the Federal Reserve stepped in with $1.5 trillion worth of short-term loans to banks.