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US House to vote on coronavirus aid after Trump, Democrats reach deal

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Democrats in the House of Representatives have reached a deal with President Donald Trump's administration on a coronavirus aid package and will soon pass it, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Friday.

[WASHINGTON] The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives prepared on Friday to pass a coronavirus aid package that would provide free testing and paid sick leave for workers, after US President Donald Trump said he would support the multi-billion dollar legislation.

The bill marks the first effort by Congress to limit the economic fallout from a pandemic that has infected 138,000 people worldwide, killed more than 5,000 and shuttered schools, sports arenas, theatres and offices.

It comes after extensive negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Mr Trump's point person on the issue. Mr Mnuchin has pressed for tax cuts, while Ms Pelosi had pushed to expand safety-net spending.

"We were willing to work in a bipartisan way, even though we could have gone much sooner, much faster," Ms Pelosi said at a news conference.

Earlier in the day, Mr Trump accused Democrats of "not doing what's right for the country". His support for the deal, announced on Twitter, raises the likelihood that Democrats and Republicans will vote for passage - and that the Republican-controlled Senate will pass it next week.

Ms Pelosi and Mr Trump have a frosty relationship, and the two did not speak directly. "There was no need for that," she said.

The bill would provide two weeks of paid sick and family leave for those affected by the virus, according to a summary released by Ms Pelosi's office. Democrats had initially sought to create a permanent paid sick-leave benefit for the third of US workers who currently lose wages when they stay home due to illness, but Republicans said that was a dealbreaker.

It would expand safety-net programs that help people weather economic downturns, including low-income schoolchildren who risk losing access to free breakfast and lunch if their schools are shuttered. It would bolster unemployment aid and the "food stamps" program that helps 34 million low-income people buy groceries.

Federal support for Medicaid would also be increased, giving states a cushion to fund the low-income health insurance program that Mr Trump has repeatedly tried to scale back.

The bill does not include the US$1 trillion payroll tax cut that Mr Trump has sought.

Republicans and Democrats alike have shown little enthusiasm for that proposal. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said it could factor in other stimulus efforts that are likely to follow this one.

Ms Pelosi said the House would begin work next week on another round legislation to assist hard-hit industries and the broader economy.

Ms Pelosi does not need Republican votes to pass the bill out of the House, but it would probably not get far in the Republican-controlled Senate without bipartisan support.

The two sides have struggled to find common ground after quickly passing a US$8.3 billion bill last week to pay for vaccine research and other disease-fighting measures.

Mr Trump declared a national emergency on Friday, freeing up US$50 billion in federal aid.

REUTERS