By María Peña
WASHINGTON.— The Democratic caucus of the House of Representatives and the Trump Administration have reached an agreement on an economic relief plan to combat the coronavirus outbreak, paving the way to help families and businesses affected by the crisis.
The Speaker of the Lower House, Nancy Pelosi, announced the agreement in a letter to her caucus, shortly before the legislation was submitted to a vote in that legislative body.
“We are proud to have reached an agreement with the Administration to resolve pending challenges,” said the president of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, who led a feverish negotiation with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin since last Wednesday.
As Pelosi explained, the plan “puts families first” and will provide a stimulus to the economy.
Once approved by the House of Representatives, something that will happen in the next few hours, the economic package will be sent to the Senate for its final vote.
The Senate suspended its recess next week precisely to address the coronavirus crisis, which in the United States has overcome more than 1,600 cases and has claimed the lives of 41 people.
In the letter, Pelosi explained that the democratic coronavirus legislation will include free tests for the coronavirus; 14 sick days with pay, and more funds for food stamps, unemployment benefits and school meals.
It also authorizes funds for food banks and food aid for the elderly, and to strengthen the protection of workers in the health sector, of cleaning workers in high-risk places, and workers in other sectors where they remain. exposed to infected people.
The measure will increase funding for the “Medicaid” program to help state governments face increased spending to deal with the public health crisis.
In addition, it will establish tax credits for small and medium-sized businesses, taking into account that many companies are suffering millionaire losses on a daily basis due to a resounding drop in tourism and consumption.
The service sector, which has a strong immigrant workforce, is among the items in the economy hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
In the United States, 27% of workers in the service sector lack sick days with pay, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Although both parties agree on the urgency of releasing more funds to respond to the crisis, they maintain differences regarding the scope of a legislative solution.
From his Twitter account, the Republican majority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, had expressed hope that Congress could achieve bipartisan legislation, in the face of an epidemic that has caused the closure of schools and businesses, and the cancellation of all kinds of social and sports events throughout the country.
If the Senate makes changes as it leaves the lower house, it would have to be subject to a second vote in that legislative body before Trump signs it.
Pelosi led the negotiations with Mnuchin, which included numerous phone conversations throughout Thursday, according to legislative sources.
According to official figures, the global coronavirus pandemic already exceeds 131,000 confirmed cases and almost 5,000 deaths. In the United States, Washington, California and New York lead the list of states with the highest number of cases.
Negotiations in Congress have not been without controversy, particularly as Republicans oppose the Democratic proposal to increase funding for the “Medicaid” program by $ 50 billion, which helps 74 million poor people in the country.
In the end, the differences had to do with the amount of aid, for how long, and how it would be financed.
Republicans also don’t support the government requiring companies to provide paid sick days. Some, however, consider that, if it is included in the legislation, it is only temporarily for the duration of the crisis.
The economic package approved by the Lower House is different from the funds released by the federal government under the national emergency declaration that Trump finally issued this afternoon, after several weeks of refusing to do so.
Trump has been the target of attacks by opposition and civic groups for his handling of the coronavirus crisis and for what they described as a late and insufficient response.
However, in recent days the president has modified the position he had adopted since the first case of coronavirus in the United States, on January 21.
Trump first accused the Democratic opposition and the media of “exaggerating” the scope of the crisis, and resisted issuing an emergency declaration.
Faced with the voluntary quarantine of Republican leaders, the closure of schools and universities and the cancellation of dozens of sporting, social and political events, Trump has wanted to transmit a message of calm and that he controls the crisis.
During a press conference at the White House Rose Garden and for the first time since the pandemic broke out, Trump did not rule out undergoing a coronavirus test, because he has been in contact with people exposed to the virus in recent days.
On March 6, Trump enacted an emergency funds package that provided an initial amount of $ 8.3 billion to mitigate the coronavirus crisis, after both houses of Congress approved it by majority and with great bipartisan consensus.
Specifically, this measure includes $ 300 million for the purchase of drugs directly from manufacturers and at “fair and reasonable” prices; just over $ 2.2 billion to combat the spread of the coronavirus, and $ 1 billion in foreign aid.