POLITICS

Republicans, White House Gut Paid Sick Leave In Coronavirus Bill

Trump said he’d expand paid sick leave during the crisis. That’s not happening.

Under pressure from the White House and business groups, House Democrats agreed to further water down paid sick and family leave provisions in the coronavirus emergency bill currently awaiting a Senate vote.

Democrats had already vastly scaled back their proposals for paid sick leave and paid family leave. Instead of covering all workers, millions were left out of the version of the bill passed over the weekend. Still, the original compromise bill included 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for workers with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, symptoms of COVID-19 or those caring for others who are sick.

Now, after the legislative text was updated, those family leave provisions in the bill are much weaker. Paid family leave would only be available to parents who are home with kids due to school closure. The extended leave wouldn’t be available for people who are sick with COVID-19. Those workers would only be able to take 10 days of paid sick leave ― and only if they work at a company with less than 500 employees. What’s more: Companies with fewer than 50 workers can apply for hardship relief and get out of providing both sick and family leave.

“The carve-outs that came in last night through pressure from Republicans and the White House have dramatically weakened what started out as a strong paid leave proposal that would’ve made a difference to tens of millions of families during this crisis,” said Jessica Mason, senior policy analyst at the National Partnership for Women and Families.The so-called corrections actually gut those policies and weaken our nation’s response to this pandemic.”

Employers are also allowed to secure exemptions for individual employees who are first responders and health care professionals who may have to deal with emergency issues.

“Politicians like to talk a good game about providing paid sick days to everyone, including Trump,” said Vicki Shabo, a senior fellow and paid leave expert at New America.

Trump touted the bill’s paid sick leave provisions on Tuesday in an update about the pandemic.

The bill is a disappointment to advocates who’d hoped the pandemic would finally push lawmakers to enact universal paid sick leave in the U.S. However, it still does contain provisions for COVID-19 testing and Medicaid expansion that will be helpful.

“There are other parts of the bill, provisions related to Medicaid, that are incredibly important and that is why we continue to support passage of the bill,” Mason said. “but Congress needs to understand that the paid sick days and paid leave provisions do not begin to address the needs of families right now.”

It could’ve been worse, said a senior Democratic aide familiar with the negotiations. The White House actually wanted to weaken a longstanding law that provides Americans with unpaid time off during a medical emergency. The administration sought to get rid of part of the 30-year-old Family and Medical Leave Act, which ensures workers can get health insurance while they’re on long-term leave.

“This was a nonstarter for the speaker,” the aide said, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who was also able to get a tax credit for small businesses to make it easier for them to offer the paid time off. 

House Democrats said the changes were necessary in order to secure a bipartisan bill that would stand a greater chance of passage in the Republican-controlled Senate. Many GOP lawmakers voiced concern that the paid leave provisions would place further stress on small businesses that are slashing jobs due to anemic demand amid the crisis.

Congress is scrambling to do something bigger to deal with the coronavirus epidemic. They’ve already passed, and the president signed, an $8.5 billion package dealing with medical issues. The Senate this week is discussing a much larger stimulus package, up to at least $850 billion, to fight the spread of the disease and prop up the economy.

Congressional Republicans also seem to be getting behind the idea of simply sending Americans cash to deal with the economic downturn sparked by the epidemic. 

“It is my intention that the Senate will not adjourn until we have passed significant and bold new steps, above and beyond what the House passed, to help our strong nation and our strong underlying economy weather this storm,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a floor speech on Tuesday.

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