McConnell blocked extending a paid-leave mandate for employees sick with COVID-19 in the $900 billion stimulus package

  • The latest COVID-19 stimulus package leaves out an extension of paid leave benefits, thanks to a push from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
  • Both the House and Senate passed the nearly $900 billion economic relief legislation on Monday night. 
  • The bill is headed to President Donald Trump's desk for his signature.
  • The CARES Act approved in March had provided 14 mandatory paid sick days for workers who fell ill with the virus or who had to care for someone with the virus.
  • The new bill only provides a refundable tax credit that allows businesses the option to offer paid leave, but it's no longer mandatory and the provision expires in March 2021.  
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Congress passed the latest coronavirus stimulus package worth $900 billion on Monday night, but a key provision was left out of the bill — paid sick leave for people who test positive for COVID-19.

The CARES Act, which was approved in March, required employers to provide up to 14 days of paid leave to workers infected with the virus, to those caring for a relative with the virus, and to people who had to look after their children due to school and day care closures. 

House Democrats led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed for an extension of the federal aid, which is set to expire on December 31. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell managed to block their bid during negotiations, according to BuzzFeed News. That means roughly 87 million workers will lose access to the protections in just 10 days. 

Paid leave has long been a sticking point in stimulus talks. The House passed two bills in May and October that would have expanded the paid leave mandate, but the legislation never made it to the Senate floor. In late July, McConnell introduced a relief package backed by Senate Republicans that left out the paid leave benefits. The bill never passed. 

Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, previously said he had "significant issues with the paid sick and family leave proposals."

"This is no time to impose an expensive new mandate or unexpected new costs when they don't have the money coming in to pay for the normal costs," Alexander argued when the paid-leave mandate was passed in March. "So I'm afraid, as a result of this, many employers worried about this provision may have an incentive to lay off more of their employees."

The current bill, which is headed to President Donald Trump's desk for his signature, offers a $1.8 billion refundable tax credit for employers who voluntarily choose to provide paid sick and family leave. The bill states that the tax credit funds will expire by the end of March 2021. 

The paid-leave mandate enacted in the spring wasn't without controversy. It only applied to companies with fewer than 500 workers, which covers roughly half of the US workforce, but omitted big businesses and left millions of people without benefits.

A study conducted in October by Health Affairs, a peer-reviewed healthcare journal, showed that the paid-leave provision helped slow virus transmission and lowered states' daily coronavirus case counts.

Labor and union groups have been advocating for a paid-leave extension for months, arguing that the need for emergency funds still exists with COVID-19 cases and deaths rising across the country. As of Tuesday, the US had surpassed 18 million coronavirus cases and recorded over 320,000 deaths, per Johns Hopkins University. 

Democratic and Republican voters also appear united on the issue. A survey released last week conducted by nonprofit organizations Paid Leave for All Action, Caring Across Generations, and Time's Up indicated that 79% of Democrats and 69% of Republicans said they support paid sick leave.

The US is one of the only high-income countries in the world that does not offer universal paid sick leave. 

In the latest bill, Congress also denied providing additional aid to state and local governments, which are already  struggling with budget crises due to the pandemic.

Benefits that did manage to make it in the latest stimulus package include $600 direct payments, with an extra $300 a week for people who are unemployed, as well as $284 billion in loans for small businesses. 

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