Senate Passes Economic Stimulus Package for COVID-19 Outbreak
Secures Paid Emergency Leave, Enhances Unemployment Insurance, Strengthens Food Security
The U.S. Senate today overwhelmingly passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act aimed at bolstering the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic to help mitigate the health and economic impacts of the outbreak. The bill ensures COVID-19 testing is free for Americans, secures paid sick leave as well as family and medical leave, enhances unemployment insurance to help workers, and ensures that students, seniors, and low-income households can continue to access nutrition assistance. The bill now heads to the President to be signed into law.
“We are all focused on the coronavirus and the impacts it is having on Alaska, across our nation, and around the globe. I’m encouraged that we’ve already seen so many Alaskans coming together in incredible ways—supporting, encouraging, and helping each other through this difficult time,” said Senator Murkowski. “Everyday life looks very different for most right now. Significant steps have been taken in Alaska and around the country, out of an abundance of caution, to keep our communities healthy and safe as we contain the spread of the virus. In the Senate we have been working with the Administration to help shore up the health of our economy and to ensure that Alaskans, and all Americans, have the support they need. This bill is a significant first step. This is an evolving situation, but we are taking this pandemic and the economic and health impacts incredibly seriously. I will continue to work to ensure the unique needs of Alaska are addressed.”
“The COVID-19 outbreak, in addition to the clear health risks, has unleashed a great deal of disruption and anxiety into all aspects of our lives,” said Senator Sullivan. “While far from perfect, by passing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act today, Congress is acting boldly and in a bipartisan way to ensure all Americans have access to testing, while also providing a stronger temporary social safety net for those who are sick or are caring for ill loved ones, as well as bolstering Alaska’s unemployment insurance program and funneling significant resources to the state’s SNAP and WIC programs. Alaskans should know that Congress’s work is far from finished. We are already working on a much bolder package—a historic injection of capital liquidity—for our small businesses in Alaska and across the nation. I’m also pushing for a PFD-like payment to hard-working Alaskans to help get them through challenging times. Working together, we will get through this. I am confident we will find ourselves stronger and more resilient when we get through this challenge.”
Free Coronavirus Testing: The bill provides funding to cover the costs of COVID-19 diagnostic testing, including the cost of a provider, urgent care center and emergency room visits in order to receive testing. This ensures that coverage must be provided at no cost to the consumer, including for individuals without health insurance.
Tribal Health System: The bill includes funding to cover the full cost of COVID-19 tests for all American Indians/Alaska Natives regardless of whether the test is received within, or outside of, the Indian health system.
Paid Leave: To support individuals in need of additional leave time as a result of COVID-19 pandemic, the bill:
- Provides up to 80 hours of paid sick leave for self-isolation, care due to symptoms, and for care of a sick family member who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- Supports leave time to care for a child if the school or place of care is closed due to the outbreak.
- Includes a provision of up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave during a public health emergency to employees who have been employed for 30 days who have a qualifying need for leave and by employers with fewer than 500 employees and government employers.
- Allocates funding for the Internal Revenue Service to implement tax credits for paid sick and paid family and medical leave is also included.
Unemployment Insurance: Supplies emergency grants to states for costs associated with processing and paying unemployment insurance benefits such as for staffing, technology, systems, and other administrative costs. States which experienced at least a 10 percent increase in unemployment would be eligible to receive an additional grant to assist with costs related to unemployment spike and would be required to take steps to temporarily ease eligibility requirements that are limiting access to unemployment insurance such as work search requirements and required waiting period. These provisions complement flexibility the U.S. Department of Labor has given states to approve unemployment benefits for those who have been laid off due to coronavirus.
Food Security: Strengthens food security initiatives through additional investments for low-income pregnant women or mothers with young children who lose their jobs or are laid off due to the emergency, support for food banks to meet increased demands due to emergency, and nutrition for seniors. Ensures children who depend on free and reduced-priced meals have access to food during school and child care closures. This complements an announcement by USDA that they are expanding a pilot program approved for Texas and Alaska to deliver boxes of shelf-stable foods to low-income rural children who cannot access meals provided by schools or child care centers.
Medicaid: Increases the Federal share of Medicaid payments by 6.2 percent.
- In an effort to better prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19, Senators Murkowski and Sullivan recently voted in favor of an emergency supplemental funding package, the Coronavirus Preparedness & Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, which includes a total of $8.3 billion. The bill aims to strengthen the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak and allow for necessary precautions, prevention, and treatment at the local, state, national, and international levels.