CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation early Saturday morning aimed at addressing multiple issues related to the coronavirus.
Legislators passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act in a bipartisan 363-40 vote. The measure sets aside $1 billion for food programs in addition to providing free coronavirus tests and paid sick leave.
President Donald Trump endorsed the bill Friday evening, hours after declaring a national emergency because of the virus. His action will open up $50 billion for local and state governments to respond to the outbreak.
“This Bill will follow my direction for free CoronaVirus tests, and paid sick leave for our impacted American workers,” the president tweeted. “I have directed the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Labor to issue regulations that will provide flexibility so that in no way will Small Businesses be hurt.”
The legislation is a byproduct of multiple discussions between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Reps. David McKinley and Carol Miller joined most of their Republican colleagues and all present Democrats in passing the measure. Rep. Alex Mooney was one of 40 Republicans who opposed the legislation.
“Combined with President Trump’s emergency declaration yesterday and other actions to speed up and expand testing are important steps to fight the pandemic.We are not done. Congress will need to do more in the coming weeks to ensure the well being of the American people,” McKinley tweeted.
Miller called the measure “bipartisanship at its best.”
“We are working diligently to keep America healthy,” she also said.
Mooney criticized the drafting process, saying Pelosi crafted the bill “behind closed doors.”
“She did not allow any amendments to the bill, did not take input from members of Congress, and did not give enough time to read the bill before voting,” he said following the vote. “Further, the American public were also not given their opportunity to comment on the bill through regular committee meetings.”
The president signed a funding bill on March 6 dedicating $8.3 billion for addressing the coronavirus, in which $5 million went to response efforts in West Virginia. All of West Virginia’s federal delegates supported the spending measure.
Cathy Kunkel, a Democrat running in this year’s 2nd Congressional District contest, issued a statement Saturday morning denouncing Mooney.
“The necessary public health measures being taken against coronavirus are hitting working families the hardest. Kids are staying home from school, sick workers are being told to stay home, and many are threatened with job losses as our economy slows down,” she said.
“This legislation — providing for free testing, paid sick days, enhanced unemployment insurance and stronger food programs — is absolutely necessary. Instead, Alex Mooney chose to vote against working families and our health.”
The Senate will not vote on the measure until Monday at the earliest. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., canceled a legislative recess scheduled for next week because of the virus but dismissed members for the weekend.
“Of course, Senators will need to carefully review the version just passed by the House. But I believe the vast majority of Senators in both parties will agree we should act swiftly to secure relief for American workers, families, and small businesses,” McConnell said following the House’s vote.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., expressed frustration on Friday’s MetroNews “Talkline” about senators not working throughout the weekend.
“We should have stayed here and when the House gets done today with the package, take it up tonight, and have it done and have it moving,” he said.
According to the New York Times, at least 2,345 people in the United States have tested positive for coronavirus as of Saturday afternoon. There has not been a confirmed case in West Virginia.