Tester-Backed Coronavirus Relief Package Passes Senate
Package includes Senator’s legislation to guarantee testing is free, provide emergency unemployment benefits
After calls for swift action from U.S. Senator Jon Tester, the Senate today passed the bipartisan, Tester-backed coronavirus relief package, which will provide critically needed resources to Montana communities amid the state’s efforts to combat the outbreak. The legislation will now be sent to the President’s desk for his signature.
“This package is a critical step forward that delivers much-needed support to Montana workers, veterans, Tribes, and families in the face of this outbreak,” said Tester. “It provides emergency unemployment benefits for Montanans who are out of work, it will help ensure students can still get meals while schools are closed, and it guarantees that COVID-19 testing will be free, regardless of whether you’re insured or not. But we have a lot more work to do, so Congress needs to put politics aside and keep working on solutions that will keep Montana families, businesses, and communities secure.”
Two of Tester’s bills-to ensure that COVID-19 testing is free to all Montanans, regardless of their insurance status, and to create a temporary unemployment assistance program for Americans whose job status has been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak-were included in the package, along with a number of other priorities the Senator aggressively pushed for. The package provides:
- Free testing for COVID-19 under all insurance plans and for the uninsured;
- $64 million for IHS to cover the costs of diagnostic testing;
- $60 million for VA to cover the costs of diagnostic testing;
- $1 billion in emergency unemployment insurance benefits;
- An emergency increase to the federal medical assistance percentage for the duration of the public health emergency – the increase of 6.2 percentage points would mean that Montana would receive an estimated $80 million for Medicaid expenses;
- $250 million for senior nutrition programs, including meal delivery;
- Up to two weeks of paid leave for employees of employers with fewer than 500 employees and government employers, with the exception of some small businesses;
- Up to an additional ten weeks of partial paid leave for folks with kids whose schools or childcare has closed as long as they are employees of employers with fewer than 500 employees or government employers, with the exception of some small businesses;
- More than $1 billion in food assistance, including $400 million for local food banks to meet increased need and $500 million for WIC to support low-income pregnant women and mothers with young children who lose their jobs or are laid off due to COVID-19; and
- Flexibility for school lunch programs to continue providing meals to low-income students even if schools are closed.
Earlier this week, Senator Tester took to the Senate floor to excoriate Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for allowing the Senate to take a three day weekend despite the urgent need to pass this legislation.
“Last Thursday, the Majority Leader [Mitch McConnell] sent us home, business as usual,” said Tester. “What we should have done-we should have stuck around and done the people’s work, but instead my friends in the Majority decided we should operate business as usual and take off Friday and take off the weekend and go home. Well, this is not business as usual…Millions of Americans are waiting for the Senate to act…[This bill] is an important start towards providing needed relief. It provides free testing, sick leave, and unemployment insurance for those losing their jobs through no fault of their own.”
Tester has been aggressively pushing the Trump Administration to make sure that vulnerable Montanans-in particular seniors, folks with disabilities, and direct care providers-have access to information about test kits, proper protection, and the spread of COVID-19. He passed bipartisan legislation through the Senate to ensure veterans GI benefits are protected during the outbreak, and he is working to extend the IRS tax filing deadline. He has also doubled down on his efforts to press the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Indian Health Service to provide veterans, VA healthcare staff, and Tribes with access to proper resources and information.
Tester’s full speech on the Senate floor can be found HERE.