President Trump signs coronavirus package, TN senators split on vote


WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate has approved – and President Donald Trump has signed – a $100 billion-plus bill to boost testing for the coronavirus and guarantee paid sick leave for millions of workers hit by it.

Lawmakers and the White House have already turned their focus to the administration’s far bigger $1 trillion plan to stabilize the economy as the pandemic threatens financial ruin for individuals and businesses.

The centerpiece of Trump’s economic rescue plan is to dedicate $500 billion to start issuing direct payments to Americans by early next month. The amounts would depend on income and family size.

It would also funnel cash to businesses to help keep workers on payroll.

The Senate overwhelmingly passed a second coronavirus response bill, which Trump signed Wednesday night. The vote was a lopsided 90-8 despite worries by many Republicans about a temporary new employer mandate to provide sick leave to workers who get COVID-19. The measure is also aimed at making tests for the virus free.

Meanwhile the administration pushed forward its broad economic rescue plan, which proposes $500 billion in checks to millions of Americans, with the first checks to come April 6 if Congress approves.

Tennessee lawmakers Sen. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Marsha Blackburn split the vote on the Families First Coronavirus Act.

The senators’ offices issued statements Wednesday night.

“Tennessee workers and small business owners do not want unfunded federal mandates placed on them while they are struggling to keep their doors open and meet payroll. They have told me they desperately need our support for flexibility to create solutions that work for their employees. At a time when revenue has decreased for many, it is irresponsible to implement a one-size-fits-all government mandate requiring employers to provide paid sick leave. Our Tennessee hospitals and our TennCare program have serious concerns with the Medicaid provisions and we are continuing to work with them to meet the needs in our communities. I look forward to working to pass legislation that will properly address these concerns.”

Sen. Marsha Blackburn

“I have significant issues with the paid sick and family leave proposals in the legislation we passed today – even though I believe those provisions are well-intended by the Administration and by the House of Representatives – because this paid leave plan hurts employers and shortchanges employees. …If Washington, D.C., is going to require small businesses, many of which are struggling or going out of business, to pay a new mandate, Washington should pay for it. This is no time to impose an expensive new mandate or unexpected new costs when they don’t have the money coming in to pay for the normal costs. So I’m afraid, as a result of this, many employers worried about this provision may have an incentive to lay off more of their employees. …I would rather Washington work with the states and their existing programs to make sure states have sufficient funding on top of their own funds to deal with the large amount of auto workers, restaurant workers and workers at small businesses.” 

Alexander concluded his remarks by talking about the third bill Congress is working on to address COVID-19:

“We’re going to stay here until we take step three – and step three, according to the president’s proposal, would include direct financial payments to Americans. That legislation will need to fix problems to make the paid leave mandate work, improve and further expand COVID-19 testing, increase the availability of medical masks and other protective equipment, and increase the number of health care workers. We also need to allow students to defer payment on their student loans and to keep their Pell grants and give the Education Secretary flexibility to waive federal academic testing and accountability rules. Congress should pass this legislation immediately.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander

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