President Trump signed into law the first two phases of the House’s coronavirus economic response package. Meanwhile, the Senate has been developing and negotiating “much bolder” phase three legislation.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act
The House had sent its Families First Coronavirus Response bill (HR 6201) and accompanying technical corrections resolution to the Senate on the evening of March 16. “I have decided we are going to vote…on the bill that came over from the House, and send it to the president for his signature,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters during a March 17 press briefing. “A number of my members think there are a number of shortcomings in the bill, and I counsel them to gag and vote for it anyway… and address those shortcomings in the next measure.”
Senate Democrats were largely pleased with leadership’s decision to pass the House bill without amending it, while moving forward on additional legislation. “We will have other opportunities to legislate,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, R-N.Y., said from the Senate floor on the morning of March 17.
President Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act ( P.L. 116-127) into law on the evening of March 18.
Paid Leave Credits
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act increases funding for COVID-19 testing, and extends paid sick leave to employees all over the country affected by the pandemic. Under the new law, employers with fewer than 500 employees and government employers must provide paid sick leave to employees who are forced to stay home due to illness, quarantining, or caring for a family member because of COVID-19, or to care for a son or daughter if the school or place of care is closed due to COVID-19.
The new law compensates non-governmental employers for the required paid leave with refundable credits against the employer’s portion of the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) payroll tax or the Railroad Retirement Tax Act (RRTA) Tier 1 payroll tax, as appropriate. It also provides similar credits for paid leave “equivalent amounts” to self-employed individuals affected by COVID-19.
Paid sick leave credit. For an employee who is unable to work because of a COVID-19 quarantine or self-quarantine, or who has COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis, eligible employers may receive a refundable sick leave credit for sick leave at the employee’s regular rate of pay, up to $511 per day and $5,110 in total, for a total of 10 days. For an employee who is caring for someone with COVID-19, or is caring for a child because the child’s school or child care facility is closed, or the child care provider is unavailable, due to the COVID-19, eligible employers may claim a credit for two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay, up to $200 per day and $2,000 in total, for up to 10 days.
Paid family care (child care) leave credit. For an employee who is unable to work because of a need to care for a child whose school or child care facility is closed, or whose child care provider is unavailable, due to the COVID-19, eligible employers may receive a refundable family care (child care) leave credit. This credit is equal to two-thirds of the employee’s regular pay, up to $200 per day and $10,000 in total. Up to 10 weeks of qualifying leave can be counted towards the child care leave credit.
“That legislation [the Families First Coronavirus Response Act] was hardly perfect. It imposes new costs and uncertainty on small businesses at precisely the most challenging moment for small businesses in living memory,” Senate Majority Leader McConnell said from the Senate floor on March 19. “So the Senate is even more determined that our legislation cannot leave small business behind.”
The phase three measure under consideration includes several key components, such as:
- new federally-guaranteed loans for small businesses;
- direct financial help/emergency tax relief;
- targeted lending to industries of national importance; and
- health resources for those working on the front lines of combating COVID-19.
“The small business relief will help. And so will a number of additional tax relief measures, which will be designed to help employers maintain cash flow and keep making payroll,” McConnell said. He also highlighted Republicans’ focus of putting “cash in the hands of the American people…from the middle class on down.”
To that end, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reportedly said on March 19 that the forthcoming economic stimulus package would deliver $1,000 to every U.S. adult and $500 for every child. Further a second round of checks in the same amount would go out to individuals six weeks later, Mnuchin added.
“Americans need cash now and the president wants to get cash now. And I mean now, in the next two weeks,” Mnuchin said at the White House.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Schumer has continued discussions with Senate Republicans and the Trump administration. As this Issue went to press, it still remained unclear how quickly Democrats and Republicans will reach consensus on the phase three measure.
“We don’t want bailouts unless they are used for workers, unless the industries keep all their employees, unless they don’t cut salaries of their employees, and unless they are not allowed to buy back their own stocks or raise corporate salaries,” Schumer said in a March 19 tweet.