Senate Appropriations Vice Chair Leahy Statement On Consideration Of The Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Families across the country are facing an unprecedented challenge, and we must act, and act now, on solutions that put families and the American people first. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act takes a substantial step toward providing the relief and assurance communities need as we face this public health crisis. 

Families should not be forced to choose between a paycheck and their own health and safety, or the health and safety of their community.  A restaurant worker in Vermont cannot afford to stay home from work for several days or several weeks and still afford to pay her rent or feed her family, but staying home is exactly what we are asking waitresses, store clerks, gas station attendants, hourly workers and many other employees to do.  To contain this virus, we must address this reality.

Today, I am strongly urging Republicans and Democrats to drop their labels and support this emergency relief package, and pass it now.  The American people need leadership, not political battles. 

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act creates two weeks of emergency paid sick leave so that people who work for small businesses are able to stay home from work if they are sick or must quarantine due to coronavirus.  It creates up to 12 weeks of job protection under the Family and Medical Leave Act, and allows an employee to stay home for a longer period of time to recover from illness, or take care of a sick family member, or care for a child who must be at home because of school and day care closures.  These are commonsense solutions.  Not only is it the right thing to do, it is a critical step if we want to contain and defeat this public health crisis.  It means employees won’t have to choose between going to work when they are sick and potentially spreading the virus and missing a paycheck.  This bill also makes important changes to the unemployment insurance program to help those that lose their job due during this crisis.  I hope as Congress considers further steps to help address this crisis, we further support the small businesses that are supporting these employees and are the backbone of our local economies.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act would inject $500 million into the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and contains legislative changes to free up funding to help children who would go without breakfast or lunch if their schools closed.  It would provide $400 million for the Emergency Food Assistance Program to ensure that foodbanks have the resources they need to serve their communities, and provide $250 million for senior nutrition programs. 

These are common sense proposals to help families where they are in their communities. 

Importantly, this bill will provide $1 billion to help cover the cost of testing for people who are uninsured.  This virus does not discriminate between the rich or the poor, or between those who have insurance and those who do not.  Our approach to address this crisis cannot discriminate either.  Nothing can help our country make up the ground we have lost because of the failed policies and poor execution of this Administration of testing for the coronavirus.  Because of the delays in getting the tests to state and local governments where they are needed, we do not fully understand the scope or spread of this disease in our country.  We cannot compound these mistakes by denying the coronavirus test to those who can least afford it.  Cost cannot be a barrier to seeking medical treatment during a public health crisis. 

This bill is not perfect.  As currently drafted the paid sick leave benefits and Family Medical Leave Act polices extend only to companies with 500 employees or fewer.  That leaves many workers in this country without these important protections.  I understand this was the price of securing White House support for this bill.  I would like the White House to explain why it thinks hourly workers at Target, Walmart, or McDonalds are less deserving of these protections.  If we had the luxury of time, I would join other Senate Democrats in offering an amendment to close this gap.  But we do not have that luxury.  This bill was a product of compromise, and any change risks a threat of delay at a time when delay is our greatest enemy. 

To my friends across the aisle who also want changes in this bill, I urge you to stand down.  We need to pass this bill today, without delay.  We do not have time for a lengthy debate.  The American people are looking to us for leadership and swift action; let’s provide it. 

This bill is the first step toward meeting American families where they are as they confront this crisis.  In my more than 40 years in the United States Senate, few moments have demanded our bipartisan leadership more than this crisis.  We must provide the protections in this bill—paid sick leave, unemployment insurance, nutrition assistance, and affordable testing for the American people—and we must do it now. 

In this time of uncertainty, concern and fear, I want to remind my fellow Vermonters and all Americans: we are all in this together.  We can be smart about how we conduct our lives, while being good neighbors.  We can support our communities, our first responders, health care workers, store clerks and shelf stockers, and all those providing essential services.  I am confident that our country will emerge from this crisis stronger than we were before, as we always have.   And I strongly encourage Republicans and Democrats to support this bill. 

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