Pence Says Trump-backed Emergency Relief Plan Protects Vulnerable Americans

'If you're sick, stay at home,' Pence said. 'You need not be concerned if you're an hourly wage earner in America.'
March 15, 2020 Updated: March 15, 2020

Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the nation’s coronavirus response task force, told reporters Saturday that the emergency relief plan backed by President Donald Trump and passed by the House early Saturday will protect the most vulnerable American workers during the outbreak.

“You need not be concerned if you’re an hourly wage earner in America,” Pence said at a March 14 press conference. “You need not be concerned about staying home. If you’re sick, stay home. You’re not going to miss a paycheck.”

Pence said the bill, called “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” (pdf), contains a range of measures to shield Americans from the economic fallout of the pandemic.

“This also provides funding and flexibility to ensure that senior citizens, women, children, and low-income families have access to emergency nutritional assistance, and it incentivizes states to ease access to employment benefits,” Pence said.

The bill, which passed the House 363-40 early Saturday, includes a range of initiatives to aid in response efforts, including free coronavirus testing for all Americans and enhanced food assistance programs for those in need, and additional funds to states that experience a 10 percent increase in unemployment.

President Donald Trump said at the March 14 press briefing that the bill was the result of a “very, very bipartisan” process, adding that the “new legislative package […] will provide strong support for American families and communities in dealing with the coronavirus.”

The bill now heads to the Senate, which could vote on it as early as Monday.

Protection for American Workers

The bill reimburses smaller businesses—defined in the legislation as those with 500 or fewer employees—for providing 14 days of emergency leave to workers impacted by COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

After the two weeks of paid leave, employees who qualify will continue to receive a benefit from their employers that will be no less than two-thirds of the employee’s usual pay for the remainder of the 12-week leave.

The paid leave applies to workers diagnosed with the coronavirus, to those caring for a family member with the disease, or to those looking after a child or other dependent due to closure of a school or care facility.

In a Friday interview, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the bill seeks to help more vulnerable, smaller businesses, and that larger companies would be expected to foot the bill for their employees on sick leave.

“Obviously, we expect the bigger corporations to pick up these costs,” Mnuchin told Fox News, noting that the two weeks of emergency paid leave would be “just for companies that are 500 and smaller.”

The 110-page bill is the product of extensive negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Mnuchin, the president’s point person on the issue.

Broadly, Mnuchin pressed for tax cuts, while Pelosi pushed to expand safety-net spending.

“We have an agreement that reflects what the president talked about in his speech the other night,” Mnuchin told Fox News. “He’s very focused on making sure that we can deal with the coronavirus, that people who have to be home quarantined, that hard-working Americans don’t lose their compensation because they have to be home quarantined.”

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