Politics

Senate Democrats unveil relief proposal in response to coronavirus outbreak

Key Points
  • Senate Democrats on Wednesday unveiled more than a dozen "critical measures" intended to provide relief to local communities amid the deadly coronavirus outbreak. 
  • High-profile Democrats have been pushing for a relief proposal that is "targeted to the people who need help," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told NBC News earlier Wednesday. 
  • President Donald Trump on Tuesday pitched Republican lawmakers on a 0% payroll tax rate for employers and employees that would last through the rest of this year and possibly longer.
From left, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., participate in the Senate Democrats news conference on coronavirus relief proposals on Wednesday, March 11, 2020.
Bill Clark | CQ-Roll Call | Getty Images

Senate Democrats on Wednesday unveiled more than a dozen "critical measures" intended to provide relief to local communities in the wake of the deadly coronavirus outbreak. 

Democratic lawmakers have been pushing for a relief proposal that is "targeted to the people who need help," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told NBC News earlier Wednesday. 

The Senate Democrats COVID-19 Economic and Community Services Proposal includes:

  • Emergency unemployment insurance funds to replace lost wages
  • Requiring businesses to allow workers to gradually earn up to 7 paid sick days
  • Loan payment relief for up to six months on federally insured mortgages and student loans
  • Federal funding for local communities
  • Grants for small businesses
  • Supplemental funding to public transportation agencies and Amtrak
  • Increased SNAP benefits
  • Additional funding for food banks, schools and nonprofits
  • Emergency mortgage and rental assistance
  • Additional financial assistance to housing providers 
  • Emergency grant aid to colleges

The proposals were unveiled at a press conference on Wednesday in the midst of what seems to be a tense standoff between House Democrats and the Trump administration over how the government should address the growing health crisis. 

President Donald Trump on Tuesday pitched Republican lawmakers on a 0% payroll tax rate for employers and employees that would last through the rest of this year and possibly longer. Trump has also indicated that his administration would propose relief to the airline and cruise ship industries, which have been impacted by the outbreak. 

But Democratic lawmakers have signaled that they would not vote on a proposal that does not include relief measures aimed at easing the burden on hourly workers who might not have benefits and struggling small businesses. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in a March 9 press release issued prior to the president's 0% payroll tax idea said that any proposal must prioritize paid sick leave, widespread and free coronavirus testing, affordable treatment for all, anti-price-gouging protections and enhanced unemployment insurance. 

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., emphasized Pelosi's concerns on "Power Lunch" on Wednesday, telling CNBC that the priority is to make sure uninsured Americans "can get to a doctor or get a test without having to pay a lot of money."

"So the first thing I'd do is make sure we extended health care," Khanna added. "We should make sure people who are taking time off from work are compensated so that they have that money that they can then spend. We should make sure people who have student loans aren't defaulting on those loans." 

While the Democrats have suggested that they will also consider offering assistance to corporations, the relief effort should start "from the bottom up," Schumer told NBC News, "targeted at the people who are most hurt."

The coronavirus, which is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, has spread to dozens of countries globally, with more than 121,000 confirmed cases worldwide and at least 4,373 deaths so far, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

There have been at least 1,050 cases in the United States and at least 30 deaths, according to the latest tallies from Johns Hopkins. 

The outbreak, which the World Health Organization classified as a pandemic Wednesday, has roiled markets and led governments to take drastic actions as it rapidly spreads across the globe. 

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of deaths attributable to the coronavirus in the U.S.