In ways never experienced before, the novel Corona is affecting routines all over the world. Sports, entertainment, and some businesses have come to a halt. Initially, the most hit region was Wuhan, China. The virus has since spread globally and has had many cities and even an entire country put on lockdown. Governments have to take extreme measures to contain the infection, such as quarantining people with symptoms to prevent its spread. On Friday, the US government set out to find ways of financially assisting people who will be forced to stay at home.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act will grant a person 14 days paid sick leave and up to 3 months of family and medical leave. However, the bill does not cover all of 159 million American workers.
At a time when the productivity of most businesses is at its lowest, many employers are stressing over how to provide these benefits to their workers. Small enterprise businesses- with 50 or fewer workers- can ask the labor department to be exempted from paying family and medical leave to its workers if the sustainability of the business will be jeopardized.
The Center for American Progress estimates that currently, about 30 million Americans in small businesses are without paid family leave. It is medium-sized enterprises that are mostly targeted by the bill and are required to avail of the benefits to workers who have been employed for more than a month. To facilitate the provision of these benefits, a tax credit will be provided to companies.
Gig workers have also been covered in the bill and will get benefits similar to those of people who work in small and medium companies. These self-employed people who work for short-term contracts, such as Uber drivers, will receive a tax credit for 14 days for their sick leave.
To receive these benefits, workers will have to prove that they had a self-quarantine, or they stayed at home caring for a relative or child staying at home due to school closure owing to coronavirus. The sick leave and family leave are up to $511 and $200 per day, respectively. Should a person’s sick leave or family leave exceed their tax bill, the person is eligible to get a refund from the government.
After its release, the bill was criticized for leaving out some workers. The bill seemed to have no loopholes at first. However, after changes were made to it, the flaws in it became more pronounced. It was also criticized by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union for leaving out big employers with more than 500 workers. Though many big companies usually give their workers a paid sick leave, it is for less than 14 days- the recommended isolation period for people with symptoms of the coronavirus.
Records from the Labor Department indicate that paid sick leave is available to about 90 percent of employees in big organizations but is only accessible for eight days. Due to these loopholes, nearly 7 million employees in big companies could miss out on these benefits, according to an expert at the Economic Policy Institute.
The bill also covers part-time workers whose sick leave will be equal to their total hours of work in a span of 14 days. Therefore, an employee working for 40 hours in one week should get pay for 80 hours. Part-time employees in large firms may miss out on these benefits due to the non-mentioning of their employers in the bill.
The Joint Committee on Taxation, which is tasked with calculating how tax proposals will cost, put the figure at 105 billion dollars. Though high, many people have agreed that the health of the nation should be prioritized. Economists have pointed out that the acquisition of loans to respond to the virus threat will be easy for the government due to the reduced cost of borrowing.
Because these benefits are working mostly through tax credits, gig workers and small firms are supposed to apply for a tax credit from the IRS. This will affect the quick flow of funds. The Treasury Secretary while appealing to those involved to have the system working as soon as it is possible acknowledged that it would take a while for the process to run seamlessly.
For the next 12 months, the benefits proposed by the bill will be in place. The paid sick leave is not only for people suffering from the virus. People displaying symptoms, those in quarantine as well as those in preventive care are also eligible. Firm measures should be put in place to determine who qualifies for the paid sick leave and who does not to stop people from staying at home due to fear or laziness. With the threat that the coronavirus poses, the health of the nation’s workers should be safeguarded at all costs. This bill will help protect livelihoods as well as contain the spread of the virus.