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Public Policy Update: COVID-19 Response Package

Posted on: 3/16/2020

March 16, 2020

Over the weekend, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) reached an agreement on a second coronavirus response bill. The first package signed into law by President Trump in early March provided state and local government with $950 million in emergency preparedness funding, $826 million went to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the CDC to jump start a cure for the virus, and $3.1 billion went to help state and local health departments purchase medical supplies.

Update on COVID-19 Response Package #2

Pelosi and Mnuchin reached an agreement over the weekend on the second round of Coronavirus legislation. Crucially, the agreement received the President’s support via Twitter and passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support, shortly after midnight Saturday morning. The Senate is expected to take a vote on the bill early this week and we anticipate that it will pass, sending the measure to the President’s desk for enactment.

Pelosi has already announced that they are beginning to draft a third round of legislation that would focus primarily on the economic impacts of the virus. Though she has warned that it could take some time before the economic effects are known and therefore can then be mitigated by federal legislation. Some prognosticators in Washington have predicted that the level of economic relief could mirror that which was passed back in 2009 to combat the Great Recession.

The following is an early break down of the bill. These provisions are still subject to change once the Senate takes up the bill.

The current response package is primarily focused on the healthcare concerns and immediate potential life-or-death impacts. Through various mechanisms, the bill covers the costs of testing for both insured and uninsured individuals. To slow the spread of the virus, the bill mandates paid sick leave and family leave. Eligible employees are granted two weeks paid leave and up to 10 additional weeks of job-protected emergency leave. This can be due to their own illness or to care for an at-risk family member or to care for a child who no longer can go to school or if a child-care provider is unavailable due to the coronavirus.

The two-week paid leave is 80 hours or the two-week equivalent for a part-time employee. After the initial two weeks of paid leave, employees must receive at least two-thirds their usual pay through the remainder of their allowable 12-week emergency leave. If the leave is taken to care for a family member, employers may pay two-thirds the regular rate for the entire 12 weeks. These leave provisions expire at the end of the year.

Businesses and self-employed individuals would get refundable tax credits to cover some of the costs. The bill provides businesses a payroll tax credit on qualified wages of up to $511 per day for each employee who takes sick leave to self-quarantine or get a diagnosis. They get a credit of up to $200 per day for workers caring for children or other family members who have been affected by the virus. Self-employed people get the same credit if they are caring for family members and up to $511 per day or the average of their self-employment income per day, whichever is lower. These credits apply to the two-week paid leave requirement.

For the wages that are required for the up to 10 additional weeks beyond the initial two-week leave, which can be paid at two-thirds the employees regular pay rate, the bill provides refundable tax credit of up to $200 per day. This credit is capped at $10,000 for all calendar quarters. The cap also applies to a self-employed individual, but they will need to provide documentation establishing their eligibility at the full cap amount.

The leave provisions in the bill only apply to employers with fewer than 500 employees and the Department of Labor is authorized to grant exemptions to employers with fewer than 50 employees who can show hardship if held to these requirements.

The bill also provides $1 billion in emergency grants for states to provide and manage additional unemployment insurance benefits to workers who may be laid off as a result of the virus.

The bill also includes $1 billion in additional food assistance for low-income students, families and workers. States are allowed to use money from the food stamp program to give extra aid to families with school-age children who qualify for free or reduced-price meals. If their schools have been closed for at least five days, families can receive extra SNAP benefits equal to the value of school meals. This has the potential to impact more than 20 million school children who qualify across the country. Prior to this, USDA had waived rules so that 25 states and DC can give meals to students outside of group settings, making it easier to provide food for low-income students where schools are closed.

The bill also sets aside $500 million in food aid for pregnant women and mothers under WIC. It also includes $400 million for emergency food assistance through a USDA program. Another $100 million in nutrition assistance grants will go to Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa. Finally, the bill also includes $250 million for a program to provide about 25 million home-delivered and pre-packaged meals to low-income seniors.

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