US Senate passes Bill to expand paid leave amid COVID-19

Washington, March 19 (IANS) The US Senate has approved a House-passed Bill to expand paid sick leave, enhance unemployment insurance, and ensure free testing in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The upper chamber on Wednesday approved the plan in a 90-8 vote, sending it to US President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it into law. Two Republican senators didn't vote as they are undergoing self-quarantine after exposure to people tested positive for the virus, Xinhua reported.

US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said prior to the voting that he will support the House's proposal, though arguing that “it does not help enough Americans, and, crucially, it adds even more uncertainty for small businesses”.

The House Bill, which was passed on Saturday, includes measures to make sure that businesses with fewer than 500 employees offer two weeks of paid sick leave to their workers, enhance unemployment insurance, boost funding for food assistance programs, as well as ensure free testing.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said Tuesday that the bill was about many things but “first and foremost” testing, urging Senators to pass the legislation as soon as possible.

Pelosi also called on large employers and corporations to “step up to the plate” and offer paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave to their workers, noting that she doesn't support US taxpayers' money subsidising corporations on that.

Calling the Bill a “first step”, McConnell said lawmakers are moving rapidly to roll out a broader stimulus package in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

At a White House news briefing on Tuesday, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he is working with lawmakers on a “significant” economic stimulus plan, which includes support measures for small businesses, airlines and hotels, as well as potential cash payments for working Americans.

The Trump administration had proposed a total aid package of $850 billion, but discussions later included spending as much as $1.2 trillion, Bloomberg reported earlier, citing people familiar with the matter.



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