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House passes coronavirus legislation; Trump says he'll sign

The House passed the legislation early Saturday after intense negotiations between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI
The House passed the legislation early Saturday after intense negotiations between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI | License Photo

March 14 (UPI) -- The House overwhelmingly passed a multi-billion dollar bill to fight the coronavirus pandemic early Saturday after agreeing to its details with the Trump administration.

The chamber voted 363-40 to approve the legislation after intense negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

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On Friday afternoon, President Donald Trump said he wasn't happy with the early version of the bill, accusing Democrats of not "giving enough."

He praised Democrats and Republicans for coming together to pass the legislation Saturday. He also encouraged all lawmakers to vote in favor of it.

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"This Bill will follow my direction for free CoronaVirus tests, and paid sick leave for our impacted American workers," he tweeted.

"I encourage all Republicans and Democrats to come together and VOTE YES! I will always put the health and well-being of American families FIRST. Look forward to signing the final Bill, ASAP!"

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell canceled the upper chamber's planned recess Thursday so senators could vote on the legislation once it made its way out of the House. He showed support for the bill in a statement early Saturday.

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"Of course, Senators will need to carefully review the version just passed by the House. 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," he said.

Pelosi said Friday -- before the legislation underwent changes in negotiations -- that the Families First Coronavirus Response Act primarily focuses on COVID-19 testing as the means of halting the spread of the disease throughout the country.

Johns Hopkins University said that as of about 8 a.m. Saturday, there were 2,174 cases in the United States and 47 deaths. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which updates its figures each day at noon, said there were at least 1,600 cases and 41 deaths in the United States as of Thursday afternoon.

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According to tentative details, the act would provide free coronavirus testing for anyone who needs it, regardless of whether the person has health insurance. It also includes clear protections for frontline workers, increased federal funds for Medicaid and strengthened food security initiatives, including SNAP, student meals and seniors nutrition and food banks.

Specifically, the bill would include funding for food assistance, including for low-income pregnant women and mothers of young children who lose their jobs due to COVID-19, local food banks, and the senior nutrition program. It also calls for the Department of Agriculture to approve plans to provide SNAP assistance to children who receive free or discounted meals so they can continue to have food while their schools are closed.

The bill also includes requirements that all employees receive 14 days of paid sick leave.

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Trump declared a national emergency Friday, freeing up to $50 billion for states to battle the disease and improve testing.

Trump praised the collaborative effort that led to the bill at a Saturday press briefing on the pandemic.

"We also reached an agreement yesterday on a new legislative package that will provide strong support for American families and communities in dealing with the coronavirus," he said. "It was done very very bipartisan. It was very nice to see it."

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