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The United States House approves the coronavirus bill that funds free tests, sick leave

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a coronavirus aid package on Saturday morning that allegedly provided free tests and sick pay in an attempt to limit the economic damage caused by a pandemic that closed schools , sports arenas and offices.

With a bipartisan vote of 363 to 40, the Democrat-controlled House approved a multibillion-dollar effort that would expand safety net programs to help those who could be excluded from work in the coming weeks.

Economists claim that the epidemic, which has infected 138,000 people worldwide and killed more than 5,000, could push the U.S. economy into recession.

President Donald Trump has said he supports the package, increasing the likelihood that he will move to the Republican-controlled Senate next week.

The 110-page bill is the product of extensive negotiations between President of the Chamber Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, President Donald Trump’s flagship person on the matter. Mnuchin urged tax cuts, while Pelosi pushed to expand security spending. It does not include the $ 1 trillion wage tax cut that Trump had requested.

Pelosi and Trump have an icy relationship and the two did not speak directly. “There was no need,” said Pelosi at a press conference on Friday evening.

Earlier in the day, Trump accused Democrats of “not doing what’s right for the country.”

The bill provides for two weeks of paid sick leave and family members for people affected by the virus. Companies would get a tax credit to help cover expenses.

United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) makes a statement on a package of economic aid to coronavirus ahead of a vote in the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill in Washington, United States, on March 13, 2020. REUTERS / Yuri Gripas

Initially the Democrats had tried to create a permanent paid sick leave benefit for the third of U.S. workers who currently lose wages when they stay home because of an illness, but the Republicans claimed it was an agreement.

Workers would also be able to apply for up to three months of unpaid leave if they are quarantined or have to care for sick family members.

It would expand safety net programs that help people overcome economic downturns, including older house-related and low-income schoolchildren who risk losing access to free breakfast and lunch if their schools are closed.

It would strengthen unemployment aid and the meal voucher program which helps 34 million low-income people buy food.

Significantly, it would suspend a new restriction by the Trump administration, due to the entry into force on April 1, which would cut the benefits of the food stamp for 700,000 childless adults who are not working.

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Federal support for Medicaid would also increase, offering states a cushion to finance the low-income health insurance program that Trump has repeatedly tried to scale back.

Pelosi said the House will start working on another set of laws next week to help hard-hit industries and the economy in general. Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy said Trump’s proposed wage tax cut could be a factor in those negotiations.

The two sides struggled to find common ground after quickly approving a $ 8.3 billion bill last week to pay for vaccine research and other disease control measures.

Trump declared a national emergency on Friday, freeing up $ 50 billion in federal aid.

Additional reports by Makini Brice and Richard Cowan; Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Michael Perry and Richard Pullin

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