CORONAVIRUS

Mitt Romney Backs Hazard Pay For Essential Workers

Under the senator's plan, front-line workers who risk contracting the coronavirus would receive up to $12 more an hour over three months.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on Friday released a plan to provide front-line workers with hazard pay during the pandemic, becoming the first GOP lawmaker to endorse the idea.

The proposal aims to compensate essential workers who now face a greater risk of contracting the coronavirus, like people in the health care or food processing industries.

Under the plan, workers would receive up to an additional $12 an hour during a three-month period ending in July. Three-fourths of the cost of the proposal would be paid by the federal government through a refundable tax credit, while the remaining portion would be covered by employers.

The credit would gradually phase out for essential workers making over $50,000 annually. Those making over $90,000 per year would be ineligible.

Romney dubbed the credit “Patriot Pay.”

“Health care professionals, grocery store workers, food processors, and many others — the unsung patriots on the frontline of this pandemic — every day risk their safety for the health and well-being of our country, and they deserve our unwavering support,” the senator said in a statement on Friday.

Sen. Mitt Romney has joined Democrats in calling for hazard pay for essential workers.
Sen. Mitt Romney has joined Democrats in calling for hazard pay for essential workers.

A hazard pay premium has become a rallying cry for workers still clocking in during the pandemic. From doctors and nurses to retail employees, many people have already been infected and even died from the coronavirus likely contracted through their jobs.

Last month, Democrats offered their own hazard pay plan, which would be fully funded by the federal government. It would boost eligible workers’ pay by $13 an hour on top of their normal wages, retroactive to the start of the pandemic and through the end of this year. Unlike Romney’s plan, the premium would not phase out for higher-paid workers. Instead, it would be capped at a total of $25,000 for those earning below $200,000 per year and at $5,000 for those earning more. Setting the higher threshold for full eligibility would benefit better-paid hospital workers, the Democratic lawmakers said.

“We’ve discovered who’s essential in this economy,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said Friday on a Zoom chat organized by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a restaurant workers’ advocacy group. “It’s the people who keep us healthy, who keep us fed. If they’ve got our backs, everyone else in America should have their backs.”

Hazard pay is just one proposal that lawmakers are discussing as part of another coronavirus relief bill, which Congress is expected to take up later this month.

Democrats are pushing for hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to states and localities, which have lost tax revenue due to the coronavirus downturn, along with a list of other items. Republicans are calling for protections to shield businesses from a wave of lawsuits related to the pandemic.

Emily Peck contributed reporting.


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