Congress Adopts Coronavirus Emergency Package #2 With Third Bill To Follow

On Wednesday, March 18, 2020, the Congress completed work on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, HR 6201:

• An increase in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) for Medicaid and Title IV-E by 6.2 percent (state by state Medicaid increase, Center on Budget Policy and Priority)
• Women, Infants and Children (WIC)—$500 million
• Commodity Assistance Program)—$400 million
• EBT cards flexibility to provide funding to replace school meals in a public health emergency in which schools are closed
• Nutrition assistance for the territories—$100 million
• Defense Department Health Program—$82 million
• Taxpayer Services in the Treasury Department–$15 million
• Indian Health Service)—$64 million
• Senior meals)—$250 million divided with $160 million for Home-Delivered Meals, $80 million for Congregate Meals, $10 million for Native Americans
• Public Health and Social Services)—$1 billion
• Veterans Medical Services)—$30 million

In addition to these categories of spending increases, there were several modifications to nutrition programs. States can request waivers from the Agriculture Department to provide temporary, emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to SNAP households up to the maximum monthly benefit amount, and it suspends time limits on SNAP eligibility for unemployed and underemployed individuals. There are also several paperwork reductions measures for school nutrition programs that will increase their availability to students no longer in school. The package allows a greater ability to for child and adult care centers to operate as non-congregate sites.

One of the most significant pieces deals with emergency paid leave. It was also one of the most controversial with advocates pressing for much more in the third package (see the following article). It expands leave for people in companies with less than 500 people. The controversy is that companies with 500 or more people are about half the workforce. A vast majority of these workers have some form of sick leave, but there are some significant gaps that advocates will attempt to fill in the next bill. These companies are also required to provide up to 12 weeks of family and medical leave under the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, but it does not have to be paid leave. The new legislation will temporarily cover employees under the 1993 Family and Medical Leave threshold, meaning companies with less than 500 employees, including employers with less than 50 people, which covers about one-quarter of the workforce.

For people working for employers with less than 500 people (including nonprofits), there are ten days of sick days (two weeks) with employees able to collect up to $511 per day in their regular salary. Employers, including nonprofits will be reimbursed within the quarter by the federal government. The provisions also require sick days for people forced to take time off to care for a family member but at a reduced rate of up to $200 per day for the same total of two weeks. There is also a family and medical leave requirement for more extensive absences with reimbursements up to $200 per day. The employer will be reimbursed through a refundable tax credit against what the employer pays in quarterly Social Security taxes. One controversy is that it allows employers of health care and first responders to opt-out of these requirements. It also gives the Department of Labor some discretion in exempting some employers with less than 50 people.

The expanded family and medical leave requirement for these same employers of less than 500 allows the first ten days of leave to be unpaid, or the employees could use leave that may be already covered, but after ten days, employers must pay employees at least two-thirds of regular pay, up to a maximum benefit of $200 per day and $10,000 total. The same exemptions apply.

Finally, the bill offers expanded funding to state unemployment compensation systems that are intended to help process and deal with the unemployment claims overload.

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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