Pedestrians wearing face masks walk past the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, the United States, on March 18, 2020.
Pedestrians wearing face masks walk past the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, the United States, on March 18, 2020.
Xinhua/Michael Nagle

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed a bill to expand paid sick leave, enhance unemployment insurance, and ensure free testing in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Senate approved the plan in a 90-8 vote earlier in the day. Two Republican senators did not vote as they were undergoing self-quarantine after exposure to people who tested positive for the virus.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said prior to the voting that he will support the House's proposal, though he argued that "it does not help enough Americans, and, crucially, it adds even more uncertainty for small businesses."

The House-proposed bill, which was passed early Saturday, includes measures to enhance unemployment insurance, make sure that businesses with fewer than 500 employees offer two weeks of paid sick leave to their workers, boost funding for food assistance programs, as well as ensure free testing, including for those who are uninsured. The lower chamber approved technical corrections to the bill in a vote late Monday.

The bipartisan bill is the second such legislative package passed by Congress to address the COVID-19 outbreak. Earlier this month, Trump signed into law an 8.3-billion-dollar emergency funding package Congress had approved, which boosts funding for the testing of the virus, supports the development of vaccines, and lowers costs for medical treatments.

McConnell said after the Senate vote that lawmakers are moving rapidly to roll out a broader stimulus package.

At a White House news briefing Tuesday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he is working with lawmakers on a "significant" economic stimulus plan, which includes support measures for small businesses, airlines and hotels, as well as potential cash payments for working Americans.

The Trump administration had proposed a total aid package of 850 billion dollars, but discussions later included spending as much as 1.2 trillion dollars, Bloomberg reported earlier, citing people familiar with the matter.

The U.S. Capitol Building is silhouetted against sunrise in Washington D.C., the United States, on March 18, 2020.
The U.S. Capitol Building is silhouetted against sunrise in Washington D.C., the United States, on March 18, 2020.
Xinhua/Liu Jie

The number of cases in the United States surpassed 9,000 Wednesday midnight with 150 deaths, according to a tracking tool developed by the Center for Systems Science and Engineer at Johns Hopkins University.

Last week, Trump declared a national emergency over the virus to open up 50 billion dollars in federal aid to help combat the spread of COVID-19 across the country. On Monday, he recommended Americans to restrict gatherings to 10 or fewer people over the next few weeks.

The pandemic has roiled U.S. stock markets, which have shed trillions of dollars amid mounting fears of the spread of the virus. The S&P 500 plunged 7 percent on Wednesday afternoon, triggering the second 15-minute trading halt this week and the fourth within two weeks.

The outbreak has disrupted major U.S. industries, as the government has advised Americans to reduce social gatherings, more companies are adopting work-from-home policies, many universities and schools are closed, and some state and city officials have banned in-person dining at restaurants and bars.

DoubleLine Capital CEO Jeffrey Gundlach said Tuesday there is a 90-percent chance the United States will enter a recession before the year is over, according to a CNBC report.

Earlier this week, Trump, who has repeatedly touted a strong economy, said that the U.S. economy "may be" heading toward a recession.

Adam Posen, president of Washington-based think tank Peterson Institute for International Economics, said "there is nothing else left to do on the monetary side," noting that "fiscal stimulus and direct help for affected sectors are necessary to get recovery."

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