Trump, Democrats reach deal on coronavirus aid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Friday that he backed a coronavirus aid package hammered out with Democrats that would provide free testing and paid sick leave for workers, raising hopes that Congress can quickly pass the multi-billion dollar legislation.

“I encourage all Republicans and Democrats to come together and VOTE YES!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi had earlier said that the Democratic-chamber would vote on the measure, which aims to limit the economic fallout from a pandemic that has infected 138,000 people worldwide, killed more than 5,000 and shuttered schools, sports arenas, theatres and offices.

The top House Republican, Kevin McCarthy, said he believed the bill would pass the Republican-controlled Senate, given Trump’s support.

The bill would provide two weeks of paid sick and family leave for those affected by the virus, according to a summary released by Pelosi’s office. Democrats had initially sought to create a permanent paid sick-leave benefit for the third of U.S. workers who currently lose wages when they stay home due to illness, but Republicans said that was a dealbreaker.

The measure would expand safety-net programs that help people weather economic downturns, including low-income schoolchildren who risk losing access to free breakfast and lunch if their schools are shuttered. It would bolster unemployment aid and the “food stamps” program that helps 34 million low-income people buy groceries.

Federal support for Medicaid would also be increased, giving states a cushion to fund the low-income health insurance program that Trump has repeatedly tried to scale back.

Pelosi did not say whether the bill includes the $1 trillion payroll tax cut that Trump has sought. Republicans and Democrats alike have shown little enthusiasm for that proposal.

Pelosi does not need Republican votes to pass the bill out of the House, but it would probably not get far in the Republican-controlled Senate without bipartisan support.

The two sides have struggled to find common ground after quickly passing an $8.3 billion bill last week to pay for vaccine research and other disease-fighting measures.

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Trump declared a national emergency on Friday, freeing up $50 billion in federal aid.

Pelosi said the House will begin work on a third emergency package after passing this one.

Additional reporting by Makini Brice, Richard Cowan and Steve Holland; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Daniel Wallis