Congress Moves Swiftly to Address COVID-19 Pandemic
posted: March 23, 2020
ongress and the Administration have been working around the clock as policymakers roll out a three phase economic relief package to address the pandemic and those hit hardest by COVID-19.
Phase 1 of the economic assistance came in the form of immediate relief for small business by making available small business loans to those companies hit hardest. Learn more
Phase 2 of the economic relief package resulted in the passage of the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (HR 6101) on March 18, 2020. Learn more
Under the Act, that will become effective 15 days from its enactment, an employer shall provide to each employee 10 paid sick days to the extent that the employee is unable to work (or telework) due to any of the following reasons: when the employee is in quarantine subject to a government order; the employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID–19; the employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID–19 and seeking a medical diagnosis; the employee is caring for an infected or quarantined individual or dependent; the employee is caring for a son or daughter if the school or place of care is closed or unavailable due to COVID–19 precautions.
Employers of certain health care providers or emergency responders may elect to exclude such employees from the application of the provisions in the law pertaining to sick leave. The law gives authority to the U.S. Secretary of Labor to issue regulations for exempting such employees. To date, regulations to implement sections of the new law have not been proposed. One such uncertainty in the law is how the Secretary will determine exclusions for paid sick leave for employees that need to take care of children due to school or daycare closures - in cases where the viability of the business is at stake should time be granted to the employee.
Uncertainties also remain on the opt-out options provided for under the Family First Coronavirus Response Act for employers with health care workers and emergency responders.
Provisions for expanding the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) upon exhaustion of the employee’s mandatory paid sick leave time are also provided for in the legislation. Congress is still discussing pay rate caps for FMLA and are currently drafting provisions in the phase 3 proposal offered by the Senate on March 19, 2020.
The first phase 3 proposal to expand aid was released on March 19, 2020 by the Senate leadership. The Cares Act aims to provide aid and bolster financial stability for taxpayers, businesses, and the healthcare industry. The total price tag is expected to grow beyond $1 trillion according to lawmakers. The House is also currently drafting their version of phase 3. More deliberation on the economic aid package is expected in the coming days, as Congress commits to a swift passage of phase 3 before leaving Washington, D.C.
Additionally, on March 19, 2020 President Trump invoked his emergency powers and the Coronavirus Task Force addressed the shortage of medical supplies and other emerging issues.