Spotlight Exclusives

Trump Signs COVID-19 Relief Package

Spotlight Staff Spotlight Staff, posted on

President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed into law a $100 billion coronavirus relief package that includes provisions for free testing for COVID-19 and paid sick leave for many Americans. The signing of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act follows passage earlier this month of an $8.3 billion emergency spending package for the public health system.

Key provisions of the legislation:

  • Free Coronavirus Testing
  • Strengthened Food Assistance: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides over $1 billion to distribute nutritious food to low-income pregnant women and mothers with young children, as well as helping food banks, and providing meals to seniors. It also protects students’ access to school meals during school closures.
  • Safeguards for Medical Benefits: The Act increases the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage provided to state and territorial Medicaid programs, so that states will not have to cut Medicaid benefits.
  • Bolstered Unemployment Aid: The Act helps give states the resources and flexibility to provide unemployment benefits, even as those needs increase. That will apply to workers who are laid off or furloughed, as well as those who exhaust their allotted paid leave.
  • Establishes Paid Leave: The Emergency Paid Leave Program replaces a significant share of lost wages, so people who take leave to avoid spreading the coronavirus or other illnesses, or who have to take off work to care for their children, can still pay their bills.

Under revisions made to the original House bill, those paid leave payments would be capped at $511 a day, roughly what someone making $133,000 earns annually. The original measure called for workers to receive their full pay but limited federal reimbursement to employers to that amount.

Workers with family members affected by coronavirus and those whose children’s schools have closed would still receive up to two-thirds of their pay, though that benefit would now be limited to $200 a day.

In the paid leave provision, the bill covers companies with up to 500 employees and does not have the 50-person minimum set for in the Family Medical Leave act.

There are six qualifying reasons for coverage:

  • The employee is subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19.
  • 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 medical diagnosis.
  • The employee is caring for an individual who is subject to a federal, state or local quarantine order, or the individual has been advised to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19.
  • The employee is caring for the employee’s son or daughter, if the child’s school or child care facility has been closed or the child’s care provider is unavailable due to COVID-19 precautions; or
  • The employee is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by Health and Human Services in consultation with the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Labor.

In other provisions, employers cannot force employees to use up vacation or other sick time before using this benefit, though there is a 10-day waiting period before these benefits kick in.

Employers will receive tax credits for 100 percent of what they pay out to employees, and the Secretary of Labor can exempt businesses with 50 or fewer employees. Employers with fewer than 25 employees do not have to restore employees to their previous positions. Companies with more than 500 employees are not mentioned in the bill, and workers at those companies will have to rely on existing benefits.

Eighty-nine percent of workers at companies with more the 500 employees have access to some paid sick leave, with an average of eight days offered — well short of the 14-day quarantine prescribed for people who may have the coronavirus.

The White House and congressional leaders immediately turned to a third coronavirus recovery bill aimed at preventing the U.S. economy from plummeting into a complete collapse. According to a Treasury Department memo circulated Wednesday, the third package would total roughly $1 trillion and would include sending two large checks to many Americans and devoting $300 billion toward helping small businesses avoid mass layoffs.

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