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Indy DC Download: The House approves coronavirus bill to help workers weather the storm

Humberto Sanchez
Humberto Sanchez
United States Capitol building

With disruptions to the economy and everyday life expected to increase as health officials seek to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, House Democrats and Republicans came together last week after intense negotiations and passed a legislative package designed to cushion some of the economic blow.

The House approved the measure early Saturday morning on a 363 to 40 vote with all members of the state’s congressional delegation supporting the legislation, which included emergency paid sick leave, enhanced unemployment benefits, free coronavirus testing, enhanced food aid for people affected by the outbreak and a temporary 6.2 percent increase in the federal Medicaid match for states.

After the vote, the House left for its scheduled week-long spring recess, but the Senate canceled its break and will return next week to consider the House bill.

The vote came as the House voted to extend controversial surveillance programs used by the intelligence community and a war powers resolution forbidding President Donald Trump from engaging in a military conflict with Iran without congressional approval. 

The vote also comes after the Senate approved a measure, introduced by Rep. Susie Lee in the House, to keep a Department of Education rule from going into effect that makes it more difficult for borrowers who are defrauded by their school or harmed by their school’s closure to receive restitution. 

Both are expected to be vetoed. 


The package included two provisions that were championed by Lee and Rep. Steven Horsford. 

Lee helped introduce a bill, included in the package, that allows more workers to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if they need to be quarantined, are ill or need to stay home to watch their kids as a result of school closure related to the virus and COVID-19, the illness it causes.

“We need to ensure workers that they won’t lose their jobs because they made the responsible decision to stay home to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Lee said in a release. 

At a press conference with Speaker Nancy Pelosi Friday, Lee urged the passage of the package. “I come from Las Vegas, which is a community that is already feeling the impacts of coronavirus with cancellations with travel restrictions,” she said.

Horsford introduced legislation, incorporated into the broader bill, that would provide $1 billion to states to administer an increase in those seeking unemployment insurance and to encourage furlough and laid-off workers to apply for the benefit.

Nevada would receive $5 million in assistance for unemployment, under Horsford’s measure, with another $5 million and 100 percent funding for extended benefits if the state sees very significant job loss, according to his office.

In an interview, Horsford said that Nevada is bracing for what could be a significant disruption to its tourism and event-based economy.

“I had a meeting with all of our industry leaders yesterday, all of our major employers, as well as some of the major unions that represent the workforce, and my statement is we are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best,” Horsford said.

Several major events in the state have been canceled, including the National Association of Broadcasters annual trade show, which is typically attended by about 90,000 people, one of the biggest conventions in Las Vegas, and the cancellation of the national college basketball championship, some of which was scheduled to be played in Las Vegas. 

The cancellations, including all major sporting events, were spurred by guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, which said that person-to-person infection occurs when people are in close contact, within six feet. The strategy of staying farther apart, known as social distancing, is designed to slow the transmission rate so that the number of people who have the virus at any given time is not enough to overwhelm hospitals and medical resources.

Horsford called the cancellations ominous for Nevada’s economy and workers, but he added that no one can predict exactly how bad it will be.

“None of us know what level it's going to be, but our hope is to mitigate that risk based on the actions that we've taken in the House,” the Nevada Democrat said.

House passage of the bill came after Trump signaled his support after criticizing the bill as not doing enough at a press conference hours earlier, when he declared a national emergency to tackle the virus. He said the move would make $50 billion available for virus mitigation efforts, and announced a partnership with some large retailers to allow mobile testing on their premises.

Gov. Steve Sisolak also declared an emergency last week.

Trump had been advocating for a cut in the payroll tax, which would put more money in people’s paychecks, but the idea was not embraced by Democrats and Republicans, including Rep. Mark Amodei who questioned how that would help someone who lost their job or had to quarantine. But he did not rule out that it could be helpful as a recovery tool later on.

Amodei last week said that he could see the crisis playing out over six months and that Congress will likely have to do more. 

“Whether you like it or not, no matter what's your public or what's your fiscal policy is, when there are natural disasters, the federal government is the insurer of last resort,” Amodei said. “It's not Lloyd's of London, it's not whatever.”

Congress is expected to develop a third package after the House returns from its recess and the Senate is working on legislation to help businesses. 

Following House passage of the second package, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled his support for taking action and said that Senate would consider it next week.

“Of course, Senators will need to carefully review the version just passed by the House,” McConnell said in a release. “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.”

Congress passed an $8.3 billion spending package two weeks ago to support federal, state, and local public health agencies to prevent, prepare for and respond to the virus. Nevada received $6.5 million of those funds.

FISA et al.

The House also last week approved a bill that renewed surveillance powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The surveillance authority is set to expire Sunday since the Senate left without taking up the House bill. But the chamber is expected to consider the measure next week.

The legislation passed the House 278 to 136 with all members of the state’s delegation voting for the bill except for Rep. Dina Titus.

“Congresswoman Titus opposed the legislation because she believes more significant reforms are necessary to protect civil liberties,” her office said.

The bill makes changes to the law designed to protect American citizens in connection with national security investigations. The legislation comes after the Department of Justice Inspector General criticized the bureau for its surveillance of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign advisor who was part of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

But those changes did not go far enough for Titus and others who opposed the measure, including Republican Rep. Andy Biggs of Maryland who is the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and Democratic Reps. Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin who co-chair the liberal Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The House also voted last week 227 to 186 on a resolution to rein in Trump’s powers to go to war with Iran.

All of Nevada’s House Democrats voted for the measure, while Amodei opposed it.

“I’m going to come down on giving the chief executives, no matter what party they're in, the ability to run the national defense without having to go to Congress all the time,” Amodei said before the vote.

The Senate passed it last month, but the White House has issued a veto threat against the measure because it would “hinder the President’s ability to protect United States diplomats, forces, allies, and partners, including Israel, from the continued threat posed by Iran and its proxies,” the White House said.

A two-thirds vote in both chambers would be needed to override the veto, which does not seem likely.

Meanwhile, the Senate voted 53 to 42 to keep the proposed rule, championed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, from going into effect. Both Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen supported the resolution.

The House approved the resolution in January, but the White House has threatened to veto the measure, which is not expected to be overturned by Congress.

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.


Legislation sponsored:

S. 3492 – A bill to transfer administrative jurisdiction over certain Bureau of Land Management land from the Secretary of the Interior to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for use as a national cemetery, and for other purposes.

S. 3434 – A bill to make Federal law enforcement officer peer support communications confidential, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 3465 – A bill to provide for the conveyance of certain Federal land to Lander County, Nevada, and for other purposes.

S. 3444 – A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to expand the list of diseases associated with exposure to certain herbicide agents for which there is a presumption of service connection for veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam, and for other purposes.

S. 3422 – Great American Outdoors Act


Legislation sponsored:

S. 3465 – A bill to provide for the conveyance of certain Federal land to Lander County, Nevada, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 3499 – A bill to amend coverage requirements to ensure that no person incurs cost-sharing when receiving a test to confirm a COVID-19 infection.

S. 3492 – A bill to transfer administrative jurisdiction over certain Bureau of Land Management land from the Secretary of the Interior to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for use as a national cemetery, and for other purposes.

S. 3444 – A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to expand the list of diseases associated with exposure to certain herbicide agents for which there is a presumption of service connection for veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam, and for other purposes.

S. 3422 – Great American Outdoors Act


Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 6248 – To amend title 23, United States Code, to increase accessible transportation for individuals with disabilities.

H.R. 6206 – To provide that the President may provide additional Federal assistance for an emergency related to a public health emergency, including a pandemic or virus threat, and for other purposes.


Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 6228 – To allow for transfer of ownership of certain Federal parcels in Nevada, to allow for disposal of Federal lands in Nevada for economic development, to make technical corrections to existing law, for conservation, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 6192 – To require the Secretary of the Treasury to honor the 100th anniversary of completion of coinage of the "Morgan Dollar" and the 100th anniversary of commencement of coinage of the "Peace Dollar", and for other purposes.


Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 6220 – To amend the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 to provide for leave with respect to a public health emergency, and for other purposes.

H.R. 6187 – To allow the Secretary of Agriculture to grant certain waivers under the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act to address school closures due to COVID-19, and for other purposes.

H.R. 6176 – To require the Secretary of Energy to develop a solar workforce training course for certain members of the Armed Forces, and for other purposes.

H.R. 6139 – To direct the Secretary of Labor to issue an emergency temporary standard that requires certain employers to develop and implement a comprehensive infectious disease exposure control plan to protect employees in the health care sectors and other employees at elevated risk from exposure to SARS-CoV-2, and for other purposes.


Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 6199 – To provide for emergency transfers for unemployment compensation administration, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 5889 – Fair Indexing for Health Care Affordability Act


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