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House Passes Bipartisan Coronavirus Relief Bill

Congressional leaders in Washington are halfway towards passing a second comprehensive spending package in response to the coronavirus outbreak. After several tense days of negotiations between Democrats in the House of Representatives and the White House, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The U.S. Senate is expected to quickly take up the legislation this week before sending the bill to President Trump to be signed into law.

Against the backdrop of more than 1,600 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, a collapsing stock market, and closures of schools, universities, and professional sports leagues, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) led the introduction of the bill, which provides paid leave for hourly employees, expands nutrition assistance and anti-hunger programs for students and seniors, and boosts unemployment assistance for displaced workers. The measure also ensures that testing related to the coronavirus is provided at no cost for individuals receiving care through Medicare, Medicaid, and military health care programs and TRICARE (veterans). The package comes on the heels of President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency that will provide up to $50 billion for states to respond to the coronavirus, and represents Congress’s second effort to halt the spread and impact of the virus.

Speaker Pelosi has already announced that the next package to address the coronavirus will be expressly focused on boosting the economy and promoting economic security. Below, you’ll find a summary of the major provisions of the bill, which will soon pass in the U.S. Senate and be signed into law.

Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Programs

H.R. 6201 provides additional funding for a host of programs that ensure the nation’s most vulnerable, at-risk, and low-income individuals don’t go hungry due to the impacts of the coronavirus. Specifically, the bill provides:

  • $500 million for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which provides wholesome and nutritious meals for pregnant women, new moms, and young kids.
  • $400 million for the Commodity Assistance Program, which provides emergency meals for low-income Americans and the elderly.
  • Ensures additional funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called “food stamps,” to assist families with children who normally receive free or discounted price breakfast and lunch at schools that are closed due to the coronavirus.
  • $160 million for the Meals on Wheels Program to ensure that homebound and transportation-limited seniors have access to healthy meals.

Health Coverage & Insurance Provisions

The bill goes a long way towards improving access to care by requiring health insurance companies to cover tests and services related to the coronavirus without cost-sharing from patients or prior authorization requirements. The package also waives cost-sharing requirements and testing costs for patients covered by Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Medicaid, and TRICARE (military).

Supporting Medicaid & the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

In an effort to support states’ Medicaid programs and expand access to coronavirus testing, the bill boosts the amount of money states receive for Medicaid services from the federal government, known as the Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage (FMAP), to 100% for tests provided to uninsured people. In addition, the comprehensive package also increases states’ FMAP by 6.2% if they provide Medicaid coverage of coronavirus testing without imposing eligibility tests or imposing premiums on recipients.

Emergency Family & Medical Leave Due to Coronavirus

The bill implements a public health emergency leave program under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Specifically, the bill applies to workers that have been on the job at least 30 days at government agencies and private organizations that employ 51-499 people. It allows leave if the employee poses a risk of transmitting coronavirus to other employees, to care for children under 18 whose school or day care closes due to coronavirus, or to care for a family member that has symptoms or has been exposed to coronavirus.

It would allow the first 14 days of leave to be unpaid but would allow the employee to concurrently use any paid vacation, personal, medical or sick leave that they have previously accrued. After the fourteenth day of leave, eligible employers would be required to provide paid leave for each day an employee takes leave at a rate equal to 66.67% of their normal pay.

Emergency Paid Sick Leave

H.R. 6201 requires governments and employers with 499 employees or fewer to provide paid sick time if any employee needs to:

  1. Self-isolate due to diagnosis with the coronavirus;
  2. Obtain a medical examination or medical services due to the coronavirus;
  3. Comply with a recommendation from a health official or public official to enter quarantine; or
  4. Care for family that has self-isolated, been diagnosed or is experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, or to care for a child whose school/child care has closed due to coronavirus.

Full-time employees would be entitled to 80 hours of paid leave, while part-time employees would be eligible for an amount of leave equal to their normal scheduled hours during a two-week period. Employees would be paid at their normal wage for leave due to their own heath condition but would be paid at a rate equal to 66.67% for leave to provide care to a family member.

The bill prohibits employers from requiring a worker to find a replacement to cover their scheduled work hours, and makes it unlawful to discharge or discriminate against employees for requesting paid sick leave or filing a complaint against their employer regarding the use of paid sick leave. Any remaining paid leave at the end of the year would be carried over to the following year. Finally, the aforementioned provisions would apply on top of employers’ existing paid leave policies.

Employer Tax Credits for Sick & Medical Leave

H.R. 6201 provides for payroll tax credits to employers to cover the cost of providing paid leave to employees under the bill’s sick leave and family leave programs. The payroll tax is currently set at a rate of 6.2% of wages and is paid by both employers and employees. The employee share of the tax will not be impacted by the bill.

The bill’s sick leave tax credit for each employee would apply to wages of up to $511 per day while the employee is receiving paid sick leave for their own medical condition, or $200 per day if the sick leave is to provide care to a family member or child whose school/daycare is closed. The aggregate number of days taken into account per employee is not permitted to exceed the excess of 10 over the aggregate number of days taken into account for all preceding calendar quarters.

The bill’s family leave tax credit for each employee would apply to wages of as much as $200 per day while the employee is receiving paid leave, or an aggregate of $10,000.

The bill makes the tax credits refundable if they exceed the amount the employer owed in payroll tax, and the credits will be in effect for wages through the end of 2020.

Conclusion

The Senate is in recess until Monday, March 16, when it is expected to vote on H.R. 6201. Although the bill may be subject to some changes as it is considered by the Senate, it is expected that it will pass and be signed into law by President Trump, who has already expressed his support for the bill on Twitter. Once signed, it is expected that relevant federal agencies will issue regulations to clarify or expand upon the bill’s provisions. We will continue to monitor the progress of H.R. 6201 and any subsequent developments.

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