Senate passes House coronavirus bill
The Senate on March 18 passed the “Families First” coronavirus bill that the House initially passed on March 14.
The vote was 98-0, Axios reported. The bill contains $1 billion in additional food assistance for low-income people.
The Senate is now expected to work on a much larger economic package. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said that the Senate will not leave Washington until the bill is passed.
Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said, “During this public health crisis, it is vital that we ensure families in Michigan and across the country can continue to put food on the table. That’s why we expanded access to healthy food for seniors, expecting mothers, children, and those who are working unreliable hours. With millions of children who rely on school meals every day, this bill ensures our students continue to receive healthy meals while schools are closed.”
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Stabenow added, “In order to ensure Americans have access to healthy food, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act:
• Creates a Health Emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to allow states to increase benefits for families who need additional food assistance during this crisis.
• Lifts certain restrictions that make it harder for families to continue to get the food they need while taking the precautions necessary when businesses are closed and families must stay at home.
• Improves child nutrition programs to allow schools and nonprofits to serve children during closures and allow multiple meals to be taken home or delivered.
• Allows alternative meal distribution methods such as mobile delivery.
• Expands eligibility to allow schools and nonprofits to feed all children in need.
• Establishes a new Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer for families with children that normally rely on school meals so they can purchase food instead.
• Expands food distribution by increasing funding for food banks and community organizations to distribute meals.
• Allows states to waive burdensome requirements for moms and kids to make sure they have continued access to nutrition and are protected from having to do in-person meetings or visits under the Women, Infants, and Children program.”
Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Hoeven, R-N.D., emphasized that the bill ensures access to testing for the coronavirus and paid family, medical and sick leave, but also noted that the bill funds nutrition assistance for families in need and ensures that children who rely on free or reduced-cost school meals can access these services when schools are closed.
“We look forward to this bill being signed into law, and we will continue working on the future phases of our nation’s response to help stimulate the economy and ensure critical industries weather these challenges,” Hoeven said.
Feeding America, the network of food banks, said it is “relieved that Congress swiftly passed the much-needed Families First Coronavirus Response Act and looks forward to President Trump signing the bill into law. The legislation includes $1 billion in nutrition assistance at this critical time. Specifically, it includes $400 million in funding for The Emergency Food Assistance Program — a program that is a key public-private-charitable partnership that helps USDA, farmers, and food banks connect nutritious food with people in need.
“As congressional and administration leaders have already noted, this legislation is a first step. We all know the need will only increase across the country in the coming weeks.”
The Food Research & Action Center, an anti-hunger group, said, “In this time of grave uncertainty, Congress has done the right thing by passing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This multibillion-dollar coronavirus response is a vital down payment for addressing this public health and economic crisis. Now, FRAC and its partners call on Congress and the administration to immediately pass a comprehensive stimulus package that will both stabilize the economy and provide direct aid to individuals and families.”
Share Our Strength, which runs the No Kid Hungry campaign, said, “We commend the Senate for taking bipartisan action to pass H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, a critical step toward ensuring communities have the resources and flexibility they need to respond to the needs of families and children during this pandemic. Passing this relief bill will help ensure kids who rely on meals at school are still getting the nutrition they need when school is closed.” ❖
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