U.S. House passes coronavirus bill funding free tests, sick leave
UNTV News • March 15, 2020 • 361
The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a coronavirus aid package early on Saturday (March 14) that would provide free testing and paid sick leave, in a bid to limit the economic damage from a pandemic that has shuttered schools, sports arenas and offices.
By a bipartisan vote of 363 to 40, the Democratic-controlled House passed a multi-billion dollar effort that would expand safety-net programs to help those who could be thrown out of work in the weeks to come.
Economists say the outbreak, which has infected 138,000 people worldwide and killed more than 5,000, could tip the U.S. economy into recession.
President Donald Trump said he supported the package, raising the likelihood that it will pass in the Republican-controlled Senate next week.
The 110-page bill is the product of extensive negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, President Donald Trump’s point person on the issue. Mnuchin has pressed for tax cuts, while Pelosi had pushed to expand safety-net spending. It does not include the $1 trillion payroll tax cut that Trump had called for.
The bill would provide two weeks of paid sick and family leave for those affected by the virus. Businesses would get a tax credit to help cover the expense. Workers would also be able to take up to three months of unpaid leave if they are quarantined or need to take care of sick family members.
It would expand safety-net programs that help people weather economic downturns, including home-bound seniors and low-income schoolchildren who risk losing access to free breakfast and lunch if their schools are shuttered.
The bill also intends to bolster unemployment aid, and the “food stamps” program that helps 34 million low-income people buy groceries. Significantly, it would suspend a new Trump administration restriction, due to kick in on April 1, that would cut off food-stamp benefits for 700,000 childless adults who are not working.
Federal support for Medicaid would also be increased, giving states a cushion to fund the low-income health insurance program that Trump has repeatedly tried to scale back.
The two sides struggled to find common ground after quickly passing an $8.3 billion bill last week to pay for vaccine research and other disease-fighting measures.
Trump declared a national emergency on Friday, freeing up $50 billion in federal aid. (Reuters)
The United States reached a grim milestone on Wednesday (May 27) as the coronavirus death toll exceeded 100,000 people, amid the ongoing global scramble to contain the virus and find a vaccine.
Currently, the death toll for coronavirus cases across the United States stands at 100,008 people, according to a Reuters tally.
The loss has largely hit urban areas, especially New York, with elderly people and minorities disproportionately affected.
On the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, nurses and doctors are caring for the living. But there is another front line of those caring for the dead.
Funeral homes in New York are chaotic and overwhelmed. It can be weeks before bodies are embalmed or buried.
Most COVID-19 victims die alone, and when they die, their families are told to quarantine. The women try to find ways for them to say goodbye.
“I don’t want to apologize because I am doing the absolute best I can, but if it’s not good enough, I am sorry. Like, deeply sorry,” says 25-year-old resident funeral director of the International Funeral & Cremation Services Funeral Home Lily Sage.
In early May U.S. President Donald Trump offered his condolences from the Rose Garden in the White House. “We mourn for every life the virus has claimed,” he said. “And we share the grief of all of you who have lost a loved one.”
For medical workers that grief can be overwhelming.
The shifts are long and the scenes are heartbreaking inside a Maryland hospital where nurses and doctors have been treating coronavirus patients for weeks, unable to let family inside to visit loved ones on their death beds.
One of the hardest moments of a recent work day for Biocontainment Nurse Tiffany Fare was, “having to see a family member of a COVID patient, say goodbye over an iPad rooms away.”
At an event in Pennsylvania in mid-May Trump hailed the work of medical workers. “They are warriors…they are running into death, just like soldiers run into bullets,” he said. “It is incredible to see, it’s a beautiful thing to see.
Dr. Erick Eiting, Mount Sinai Beth Israel’s emergency department medical director in New York, has been at the center of the storm aiding patients, whose ages range from people in their 20s to their 80s, as they discover new symptoms and evolving treatments. He said the hospital’s visitor policy was recently changed so that novel coronavirus patients nearing the end of their lives don’t have to die alone.
“That’s one of the most tragic pieces of this disease, is because it’s so contagious, that people do end up just dying alone,” he said on one overnight shift.
As bodies pour out of hospitals, 28-year-old Alix Monteleone, has a seat at the front line from the window of her third-floor Brooklyn apartment. “We see it and we’re like, this is very serious,” she told Reuters.
Refrigerated trucks have fanned out across the city to process the pile up of corpses. Their stops include the parking lot right below her window to serve the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center.
“This is very real. And we’re seeing so much chaos manifest outside of our home that we can’t imagine how bad it is inside. You know, we stopped counting how many bodies came out,” Monteleone said.
It was at this time in April that Trump once again offered his assurances. “We’re going to have a rough week. We’re going to have maybe a rough a little more than a week. But there’s tremendous light at the end of that tunnel.”
Early data from U.S. states show African Americans are more likely to die from COVID-19, highlighting long-standing disparities in health and inequalities in access to medical care, experts said.
Not all states have released demographic data showing the virus’ toll on different racial groups.
In Louisiana more than half of the deaths have been African American, a far larger percentage than the state’s population of African Americans.
Gary Harrell knew 10 of them. “It’s just hard, You wake up one in the morning and – like yesterday – and you kind of worry about what news you’re going to get. The first thing was a message from a friend who is asking that I assist her with her father’s obituary. He had passed on Sunday,” he recalled. “And then within a few hours, I got another text message as I’m driving. And that text informs me that my aunt had passed away. And, you know, it’s just it just all becomes very surreal.”
In New York, city officials hired contract laborers to bury the dead in its potter’s field on Hart Island as the city’s daily death rate from the coronavirus epidemic reached grim new records.
The city has used Hart Island to bury New Yorkers with no known next of kin or whose family are unable to arrange a funeral since the 19th century.
Typically, some 25 bodies are interred each week by low-paid jail inmates working on the island, which sits off the east shore of the city’s Bronx borough and is accessible only by boat.
Now, about 24 bodies are being buried daily, five days a week, according to Jason Kersten, a spokesman for the Department of Correction, which oversees the burials.
Many of those who have died have been elderly, with nursing homes accounting for a large portion of the deaths in the United States.
Even before the coronavirus had swept through her Seattle-area nursing home, Susan Hailey was already eager to leave.
The 74-year-old had come to the facility for rehabilitative care following knee-replacement surgery, and was due to leave in March before a bad fall left her with a broken ankle and an extended move-out date.
Then a wave of severe respiratory illness swept through the nursing home at the end of February. The facility went into lockdown and residents were forced in quarantine. A week later, Hailey tested positive for the coronavirus. She survived. Others did not.
“I remember one morning getting up because they were going to make my bed. And they called a code blue. And my aid ran across the hall and came back and said ‘he died.’ Just very nonchalant. And I couldn’t get over the callous way that it was put,” Hailey told Reuters.
It was a very different ending for retired firefighter Gary Holmberg who was only supposed to be at the Pleasant View nursing home in Maryland for a few weeks, recovering from a fall at his assisted living center.
Pleasant View has become the site of one of Maryland’s worst outbreaks, 40 miles outside the U.S. capital of Washington, D.C. At least 98 of the facility’s residents and staff tested positive and 17 people associated with the home have died, according to the Carroll County Department of Health.
The 77-year old became one of more than a dozen of the nursing home’s residents who died from the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
“I think about it every night. I think about, you know, me telling him I’m going to get him out of there, I’m going to get him out of there and not being able to do it in time,” his son Rob Holmberg, 47, told Reuters.
It’s a grief shared by people who rush to the scenes to help, such as Anthony Almojera, a 17-year veteran paramedic and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). In his eyes, this has been one of the most devastating times in the department’s history.
The coronavirus outbreak in New York City has pushed ambulance service to its limits, said Almojera in an interview with Reuters. The department went from an average of 4,000 calls to almost 7,000, putting a strain on EMTs and paramedics.
“I don’t know if any of us will ever be the same after this and that’s something we’re going to have to manage,” he told Reuters.
For registered nurse Julia Trainer the pandemic has given her an important life lesson, “Tell everyone that you love them because you never know when you won’t be able to tell them again.”
That’s a lesson not lost on 18-year-old Minnoli Aya.
The last text message she received from her mother, a physicians assistant in New York was “Home soon,” “Love you.”
“I kept texting her wanting to believe it wasn’t true,” Minnoli told Reuters.
Each night in New York City, neighborhoods around hospitals cheer for healthcare workers to express gratitude for the risks they are taking to save lives. Minnoli watches videos of the applause on social media.
“I can’t help but think, what about the ones who have fallen? What about the ones who are already dead?” Minnoli said.
It took the United States 38 days after recording its first fatality on Feb. 29 to reach 10,000 deaths on April 6 but only five more days to reach 20,000 dead, according to a Reuters tally.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has lead the state with the highest death toll in the United States.
“It is a tough time, but a lot of people have shown a lot of courage and a lot of beauty and they’ve had very tough lives — and let’s appreciate them,” he added.
Every night in New York City, people lean out their windows and flood balconies, applauding essential workers.
In mid-April Brian Stokes Mitchell added star power to the evening salute, belting out ‘The Impossible Dream” from his balcony as part of an ongoing tribute to the responders to the coronavirus in the hardest-hit American city. (Reuters)
The House Defeat COVID-19 Committee has approved a bill seeking to provide a P1.5-trillion fund to create sustainable jobs amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
House Bill 6709 or the proposed “COVID-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus (CURES) Act of 2020″ is set to fund infrastructure projects in rural areas to help curb unemployment amid the pandemic.
The CURES Act of 2020 shall also be undertaken with the “Balik Probinsya Bagong Pag-asa Program” and the immediate funding of CURES projects shall target the construction of health centers, school buildings, vocational learning centers, as well as improving fish ports and trading centers at barangay levels.
The House Bill is expected to be sponsored on Thursday (May 28) for its 2nd reading approval in the plenary on Thursday afternoon. It will have to go through a 3rd and final reading before it can hurdle the House.
Meanwhile, representatives of other government agencies such as the Department of Health (DOH), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Education (DepEd) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) also endorsed the approval of the proposed CURES Act of 2020.–AAC
Four Minneapolis police officers were fired on Tuesday (May 26), a day after a bystander’s cell phone video captured one of them kneeling on the neck of an unarmed black man who later died in a hospital, the city’s mayor said.
A video of the Monday evening incident showed an officer pressing his knee into the neck of the man who was later identified as George Floyd, according to Mayor Jacob Frey.
Frey later announced on Twitter that the four responding officers involved in the apprehension of Floyd were terminated.
“This is the right call,” he wrote.
A series of police-involved shootings and killings of black men in recent years have triggered mass protests across the country and led to the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has demanded an end to an unjustified use of lethal force in minority communities.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating the death, the Minneapolis Police Department said in a statement on Tuesday.
The department said police officers responded to a call at 8 p.m. local time about a forgery in progress. The officers found the suspect, Floyd, aged in his 40s, in a car, it added.
After he exited the car, a physical altercation between the officers and Floyd ensued. When they handcuffed him, Floyd appeared to be in medical distress.
An ambulance took the suspect to the hospital, where he died a short time later, police said.
No weapons were involved and no police were hurt in the incident, according to police. (Reuters)
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