The fast and far-reaching spread of the coronavirus (COVID 19) has prompted Congress and the White House to push an aid package directed at Americans who face tough economic times from this pandemic.
Last last week, a big majority of the House of Representatives passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, a package of emergency aid, in a 363 – 40 vote. The bill heads to the Senate today for consideration.
Here are 4 key provisions of the bill:
- $1 billion for food aid – The bill directs $1 billion to expand nutrition programs for women, infants, children, the poor, and the elderly; to aid food banks; and to keep school meal programs going (despite school closures) for 22 million children who receive free or reduced-price lunch at school.
- A paid-leave mandate – The bill requires that all employers provide 14 days of paid sick leave to their workers immediately. It reimburses small businesses (those with 50 or fewer employees) for the cost of the 14 days of leave through tax credits. This emergency leave provision will expire in a year.
- Emergency federal paid leave – The bill establishes a federal emergency paid leave benefits program for employees taking unpaid leave because either they have COVID-19, are caring for someone with it, or are caring for their children due to a coronavirus school closing. It provides $1 billion in 2020 for emergency grants to states to assist with processing and paying unemployment insurance.
- Free coronavirus testing – The bill establishes diagnostic testing at no cost to consumers. It includes waivers to allow the costs of tests to be covered by insurance and federal government programs as well as an increase in federal payments to Medicaid for states.
Our social safety net should be flexible and temporary. In times of ample employment and a strong economy, we should see fewer Americans becoming and remaining government-dependent.
However, there are times when we may want to ensure that safety programs are expanded to help those who need it — not everyone.
As we mentioned last week, this may be one of those times, but the aid should be targeted and temporary. These measures shouldn’t just be a chance to fulfill ideological wishlists of more spending on programs or expansions of government over the labor force.
For example, implementing a new paid leave mandate on all employers sets up a concerning move that may create hardships on employers that is borne by workers through layoffs or lower wages.
It appears that the new paid-leave mandate is temporary (set to expire in a year) and that tax credits are being offered to small businesses to help them afford to comply.
As human beings we understand the desire to see some relief provided to workers who do not currently have paid time off or hourly wage workers who may not get paid if their workplace closes.
However, policies implemented in times of emergency have a way of sticking around. How do we know Congress won’t extend this paid-leave mandate in a year from now?
While everyone is looking to Washington to do something, now is the time for lawmakers to be prudent even as they try to be responsive.
It is also the time for the private sector (businesses, philanthropies, communities, and charities) to shine in helping their workers, neighbors, and Americans in need.
We should applaud and encourage employers like Mark Cuban whose NBA Mavericks basketball team will continue to pay arena workers even as the NBA has suspended the season. We hope more of these stories will arise.
In the meantime, be healthy and safe.