Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is concerned that if the federal government steps in too much to help workers affected by the coronavirus crisis, it will make people lazy.
The House has passed legislation that would offer paid leave for some workers if they or their families are affected by COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Johnson, in comments in USA Today on Monday, said he was worried about “incentivizing people to not show up for work.”
“You have to think this thing through in terms of what are the unintended consequences of good intentions,” he said.
A group of conservative economists put out a similar statement Tuesday, saying such benefits ― like allowing people to take time off, without penalty, if they are sick, so they don’t die or infect others ― would “discourage work.”
This is a common refrain from conservatives, even when the coronavirus is not a factor. Basically any government assistance besides tax breaks ― food stamps, housing aid, unemployment benefits ― are believed to encourage sloth and greed.
People are not taking time off right now by choice, or because they are lazy. They are sick. Their families are sick. Their jobs are temporarily on hold because everything is getting shut down to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Or, in a growing number of cases, they are simply getting laid off. People are not being allowed to work because places like restaurants, movie theaters, shops and schools are all closed.
Johnson also said he was worried about the effect of the legislation, known as the Families First Act, on small businesses that would be forced to “pay wages they cannot afford.”
But the bill ― which House Democrats have watered down under pressure from the White House and business groups ― does make accommodations for small businesses. Companies with fewer than 50 workers can apply for hardship relief and get out of providing paid sick and family leave, if approved by President Donald Trump’s administration.
Companies that have to offer leave would receive a tax credit, although some Republicans are concerned the benefit would reach employers too late.
But Democrats agreed to weaken the provision so that now, paid family leave will only be available to parents who are home with children due to school closures. And instead of 12 days, people who are sick would get only 10 days of paid sick leave ― which is even farther from the 14 days of self-quarantine recommended under federal guidelines.
People at companies with more than 500 employees would get no extra relief. Although 89% of workers at these large companies have access to some paid sick leave, it is, on average, just eight days.
Keep up with the latest updates on the coronavirus at our live blog.
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