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Trump Signs Coronavirus Bill With Provisions on Paid Leave, Student Meals

By Andrew Ujifusa — March 18, 2020 3 min read
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This item has been corrected to reflect paid leave benefits available to adults if they are caring for a family member who’s school has closed.

President Donald Trump has signed emergency coronavirus legislation that eases rules for meals schools provide to students, and provides certain leave benefits related to schools.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act passed the Senate by a vote of 90-8 on Wednesday after passing the House last weekend. The legislation incorporates three House pieces of legislation designed to make it easier for students to access food, including those typically served by schools. Trump signed the bill the same day the Senate passed it. Here’s what we wrote about the student-meal section of the bill several days ago:

  • One, the Maintaining Essential Access to Lunch for Students Act (MEALS) Act, would waive a requirement that prevents the U.S. Department of Agriculture from granting waivers to states from the federal school lunch law if those waivers would increase costs to the federal government; the legislation was introduced by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.
  • Another, the COVID-19 Child Nutrition Response Act, would allow school officials to serve meals in a variety of settings through a new nationwide waiver authority, and was introduced by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., and Rep. James Comer, R-Ky.
  • Separately, the Pandemic EBT Act would allow states to grant Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to students whose schools close for at least five days due to the coronavirus, and who would otherwise receive subsidized school meals. This bill was authored by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio.

The legislation provides certain job protections related to school closures and government employees, including teachers.

  • For government employees (including public school teachers) and those who work for organizations with fewer than 500 employees, they would be entitled to an initial 10 days of unpaid sick leave if they have to care for family member who’s school or child care center has close due to the coronavirus. This would be followed by up to 10 weeks of paid leave equal to at least two-thirds of their normal pay.
  • In addition, if an employee is caring for a child at home because his or her school or child-care provider is closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, or because they are under quarantine or directly impacted by the coronavirus in other ways, full-time employees are entitled to 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave. This emergency paid sick leave benefit would apply to government employees (including teachers) and those who work at organizations with fewer than 500 employees. There are caps on this benefit of $511 per day and $5,110 in the aggregate for full-time employees if they are self-isolating or quarantining due to the virus, and $200 per day or $2,000 in the aggregate if they are caring for a family member whose school or child care center has closed.

These sets of provisions would sunset on Dec. 31, 2020. Trump said last week he supports the legislation.

You can read more about the Families First coronavirus bill Trump signed here.

The Families First bill represents the second phase of the federal government’s legislative response to the spread of the coronavirus. On March 6, Trump signed an $8.3 billion coronavirus-response package targeted at developing a vaccine, assisting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other health care programs.

The Trump administration has also proposed a $45.8 billion package to assist federal agencies in handling the coronavirus that includes a little over $100 million for schools, including K-12 and higher education. More broadly, Washington is considering an economic stimulus package that could approach $1 trillion—Democrats have proposed a $3 billion aid package for K-12 and higher education that could get rolled into this stimulus legislation.