Congress Begins to Address COVID-19 Pandemic

With the country collectively bracing for the increasing impact of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) global pandemic, Congress has begun to respond to the crisis.

On Tuesday, March 16, the U.S. House passed by unanimous consent a revised version of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) that includes provisions meant to ensure people, including those who are uninsured, can get tested for the virus for free and policy changes intended to help employers and employees navigate the situation in the short term. The legislation includes free coronavirus testing and the strengthening of unemployment insurance benefits.

The House passed an initial version of this bill last week, but the administration and congressional Republicans required changes before they agreed to support it.

Most notable for PIA members are the pandemic-related paid time off provisions. The bill provides employees with two weeks of emergency sick leave for businesses with fewer than 500 employees. The bill gives employees who have been on the job for at least 30 days the right to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave, with certain restrictions.

An updated provision in the bill limits the rest of family leave beyond the initial two weeks to apply to only those caring for children whose schools or daycare centers have shut down.

The U.S. Department of Labor can exempt any companies with fewer than 50 employees if such businesses appeal and the Department finds that providing the paid leave would jeopardize the future viability of the business. Employers with over 500 employees are excused from this requirement in the House bill.

Refundable tax credits, subject to certain restrictions and limitations, are made available to employers to help pay for the costs of both the paid sick and family leave. The updated bill passed last night expands these to apply to health insurance contributions to workers taking time off for illness or to care for children home from school, among other changes.

The Senate is now expected to consider the House bill as soon as today, though the situation and timing remains fluid.

This measure is part of a series of Congressional responses to provide aid related to the coronavirus. PIA is continuing to engage with policymakers and will provide further updates as events develop.