While his administration and congressional leaders continued to hammer out a trillion-dollar COVID-19 stimulus package, President Trump signed into law Wednesday evening the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the second bipartisan coronavirus relief bill Congress has passed so far — the first providing around $8 billion in emergency funding for emergency prevention and response efforts. So what’s in the “Families First” bill? Below is a breakdown of its key provisions.
The Families First law addresses the following key priorities, among others:
- provides additional funding for nutrition and food assistance programs, particularly in light of schools being shutdown and additional needs for elderly assistance programs
- expands paid leave benefits
- expands unemployment benefits
- provides coronavirus testing at no cost to consumers
- temporarily increases the Medicaid federal medical assistance percentage
Food and Nutrition Assistance Funding: Families First infuses significant federal money — nearly a billion dollars’ worth — into various nutrition assistance programs, available through Sept. 30, 2020. The provisions include $500 million for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and $400 million for the emergency food assistance program. Another $100 million is allocated for programs in U.S. territories: Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and American Samoa. The law loosens restrictions on who can received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and specifies that qualified households will be eligible for the food assistance programs if their schools have been closed for five consecutive days.
Unemployment Benefits: The law provides almost $1 billion in state grants to help processing for expanded unemployment benefits and provides additional emergency relief funds to states that have already maxed out unemployment benefits.
Free COVID-19 Testing: Families First makes coronavirus testing completely free for the public, providing waivers so that consumers does not have to pay deductible or copays.
Temporary Medicaid Expansion: The law “temporarily increase[s] the Medicaid federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP),” increasing by 6.2% federal payments to the states to cover Medicaid costs.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act
This bill responds to the coronavirus outbreak by providing paid sick leave and free coronavirus testing, expanding food assistance and unemployment benefits, and requiring employers to provide additional protections for health care workers.
Specifically, the bill provides FY2020 supplemental appropriations to the Department of Agriculture (USDA) for nutrition and food assistance programs, including
- the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC);
- the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP); and
- nutrition assistance grants for U.S. territories.
The bill also provides FY2020 appropriations to the Department of Health and Human Services for nutrition programs that assist the elderly.
The supplemental appropriations provided by the bill are designated as emergency spending, which is exempt from discretionary spending limits.
The bill modifies USDA food assistance and nutrition programs to
- allow certain waivers to requirements for the school meal programs,
- suspend the work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program), and
- allow states to request waivers to provide certain emergency SNAP benefits.
In addition, the bill requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue an emergency temporary standard that requires certain employers to develop and implement a comprehensive infectious disease exposure control plan to protect health care workers.
The bill also includes provisions that
- establish a federal emergency paid leave benefits program to provide payments to employees taking unpaid leave due to the coronavirus outbreak,
- expand unemployment benefits and provide grants to states for processing and paying claims,
- require employers to provide paid sick leave to employees,
- establish requirements for providing coronavirus diagnostic testing at no cost to consumers,
- treat personal respiratory protective devices as covered countermeasures that are eligible for certain liability protections, and
- temporarily increase the Medicaid federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP).