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Congress passes bill to supply relief to employees and the economy in response to coronavirus

Courtesy of Kentucky Chamber Bottom Line

In response to the coronavirus outbreak and its expected impact on businesses and the economy, the U.S. Senate passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The bill attempts to help employers and employees navigate through the pandemic by tackling issues such as unemployment compensation, paid sick leave, paid family and medical leave, health services, nutrition programs, and more.

Some changes were made from the version passed by the U.S. House. Details of the bill passed by the U.S. Senate are listed below.

The legislation now goes to the president for his signature.

Unemployment Insurance

The bill gives state governments flexibility with respect to waiting periods and in interpreting the “able, available and actively looking” test for Unemployment Compensation (UC) eligibility.

An additional $1 billion is being provided for state unemployment programs, and unemployment benefits are being extended beyond the usual 26 weeks, which will be fully funded by the federal government.

Paid Sick Leave

Private-sector businesses with fewer than 500 employees and government employers will be required to provide employees with two-weeks of paid sick leave (80 hours for full-time employees and a typical number of hours over two-weeks for part-time employees).

Eligibility for paid sick leave is available to any employee, regardless of the duration of their employment, if they are out of the office and unable to work or telework for any of the following reasons:

  • Employee is subject to a government quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19,
  • Employee is complying with advice from a health care professional to stay away from work,
  • Employee is experiencing symptoms, caring for a family member, caring for children if schools are closed, or
  • Employee is experiencing substantially similar conditions as specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

The Senate version of the bill states employers of employees who are healthcare providers or emergency responders may elect to exclude such employees from this leave.

This provision takes effect no longer than 15 days after the enactment of the bill and sunsets on December 21, 2020. The funding for the policy will come as a fully refundable tax credit equal to 100 percent of the sick leave wages paid by the employer.

Qualified sick leave wages are capped at $511 per day ($200 per day if the leave is for caring for a family member) and 10 days. The rate of pay will see employees compensated at either the federal minimum wage rate or local minimum wage rate, whichever is higher in their area. However, if the employee is absent to care for a sick family member or a child unable to attend school, they are compensated at 2/3 the rate they would otherwise receive.

Paid Family and Medical Leave

Private-sector employers with fewer than 500 employees and government employers will provide up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.

This leave will be available to any employee (employed for at least 30 days) if they are out to comply with a requirement or recommendation to quarantine for any of the following reasons:

  • Employee has been exposed to or is experiencing coronavirus symptoms,
  • Employee is caring for a family member with symptoms, or
  • Employee is caring for children if schools are closed or daycare is unavailable because of a public health emergency.

After 10 days, during which time the employee can take unpaid or paid leave (if available), employees are compensated at 2/3 of their regular rate. Paid leave under this requirement shall not exceed $200 per day and $10,000 in the aggregate.

Under the bill, The Secretary of Labor is authorized to exempt health care providers, emergency responders, and small businesses with fewer than 50 employees if the requirement would jeopardize the business as an ongoing concern.

For those who are self-employed, a tax credit against self-employment taxes for individuals who are self-employed but would otherwise qualify will be available but capped at 50 days.

Provisions for Testing

Private health plans, Medicare and Medicaid, will provide coverage for testing at no cost to the consumers.

The bill includes $1 billion to reimburse the costs of testing for individuals without health insurance with millions more going to Defense Department Health programs, Indian Health Service, and Veterans Medical Services.



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