A long line of customers wait to enter a Costco in Maryland's Montgomery County. A letter from Costco’s president indicates they are placing a limit on certain items to ensure access to its members. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)
A long line of customers wait to enter a Costco in Maryland's Montgomery County. A letter from Costco’s president indicates they are placing a limit on certain items to ensure access to its members. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

As President Donald Trump stood in the Rose Garden of the White House to declare a national emergency, members of the Congressional Black Caucus held a conference call to discuss a bipartisan $8.3 billion emergency funding package to help Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.

Following the conference call, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters that the bill successfully passed.

“The three most important parts of this bill are testing, testing, testing,” Pelosi said.

“This legislation facilitates free coronavirus testing for everyone, including the uninsured.”

Pelosi continued: “We can only defeat this outbreak if we have an accurate determination of its scale and scope so that we can pursue the precise, science-based response that is necessary. To put families first, our legislation secures paid leave with two weeks of paid sick leave and family and medical leave for those affected by the virus.”

“And for those who lose their jobs, we are strengthening unemployment insurance — a critical step to protect workers’ economic security. Putting families first, our legislation protects our children and, particularly, the tens of millions of little children who rely on the free or reduced-price lunch they receive at school for their food security.”

“As schools are being closed, these children will be deprived of their meals. Our bill takes aggressive action to strengthen food security initiatives, including student meals as well as SNAP, seniors’ meals and food banks,” Pelosi said.

The measure includes $500 million for nutritious foods to low-income pregnant women or mothers with young children who lose their jobs or are laid off due to the COVID-19 emergency.

The bill provides $400 million for local food banks. It allows the Department of Agriculture to approve state plans to give emergency SNAP assistance to households with children who would otherwise receive free or reduced-price meals if not for school closings due to the COVID-19 emergency.

Eligibility requires that a child’s school be closed for no less than five consecutive days.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act also includes $5 million for the Department of Labor to administer the emergency paid sick days program.

Additionally, it provides $250 million for the Senior Nutrition Program in the Administration for Community Living (ACL) to provide approximately 25 million additional home-delivered and pre-packaged meals to low-income seniors who depend on the Senior Nutrition programs in their communities.

“This is an example of why we have co-equal branches of government,” Congressional Black Caucus [CBC] Chair Karen Bass (D-Calif.) said during the conference call.

“If one is failing to act, the others must act. Speaker Pelosi and other leaders in the House have developed this comprehensive response to the coronavirus pandemic. Members of the CBC were involved in every committee in putting this bill together,” Bass noted.

“One of the reasons we’re experiencing this pandemic is because of a lack of leadership from the White House but we are fortunate we have leadership in the House with Speaker Pelosi, who has led us through another crisis,” Bass said.

The president’s emergency declaration allows the administration to utilize the Stafford Act — a federal law that governs disaster-relief effort, to provide immediate funding to state and local governments.

Meanwhile, the CBC-led Families First Coronavirus Response Act gives the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to issue nationwide school meal waivers — a move that eliminates paperwork for states and help more schools quickly adopt and utilize flexibilities.
“The bill will also suspend the work and work training requirements for SNAP,” Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said.

“It’s important because it allows states to request special waivers from the secretary to provide temporary, emergency SNAP benefits to existing SNAP households up to the maximum monthly allotment. It also gives the Secretary broad discretion to provide much more flexibility for states in managing SNAP caseloads,” Scott said.

The bill creates a paid benefits program where eligible workers will receive a benefit for up to three months in which they must take 14 or more days of leave from their work due to the qualifying COVID-19-related reasons.

Further, the measure authorizes $1 billion this year for emergency grants to states for activities related to processing and paying unemployment insurance benefits.

“$500 million would be used to provide immediate additional funding to all states for staffing, technology, systems and other administrative costs. That’s as long as they meet basic requirements about ensuring access to earned benefits for eligible workers,” Rep. Steven Horsfor (D-Nevada) said.

“Another $500 million would be reserved for emergency grants to states which experienced at least a10 percent increase in unemployment. Those states would be eligible to receive an additional grant, in the same amount, to assist with costs related to the unemployment spike,” he said.

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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