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President Trump Signs Bipartisan Coronavirus Relief Bill

After a short delay due to opposition among Senate Republicans, Congressional leaders in Washington have passed H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act—the second comprehensive spending package in response to the coronavirus outbreak. President Trump signed it into law on Wednesday evening.

The package was sent to the President’s desk after undergoing technical changes to paid medical leave and public health emergency medical leave provisions that will limit costs for small businesses. Employers with 500 employees or more are exempt from the bill’s leave provisions. Congressional leaders are already working with the White House on a third coronavirus package that will provide fiscal stimulus to support various sectors of the economy, back loans for small businesses, and cut checks to Americans. Observers expect the third coronavirus package to be finalized over the next few days and come up for a vote this weekend or early next week.

Against the backdrop of more than 6,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, a collapsing stock market, and closures of schools, universities, and professional sports leagues, Congress has passed H.R. 6201, which provides paid leave for 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, 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.

Congressional leaders and the White House have already begun working on a third package to address the coronavirus, which will be expressly focused on boosting the economy and promoting economic security for Americans. Below, you’ll find a summary of the major provisions of H.R. 6201.

Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Programs

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act 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.
  • 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) by 6.2% if they provide Medicaid coverage of coronavirus testing and treatment without requiring cost-sharing from 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 less than 499 people, although the text is silent as to whether affiliated entities should aggregate employees for the purpose of determining coverage. The existing FMLA is interpreted to require that entities aggregate their employees to determine whether they meet the coverage threshold where the entities are under common control. However, aggregating employees under the existing FMLA expands the number of covered employees, whereas applying that interpretation to H.R. 6201 would result in fewer covered employees. As such, although courts may choose to interpret H.R. 6201 as they do the existing FMLA, it is currently unclear whether affiliated entities may aggregate their employees when determining whether H.R. 6201’s leave provisions apply to them. The Secretary of Labor is allowed to exclude (1) employers of certain health care providers and emergency responders, and (2) exempt small businesses with fewer than 50 employees from providing paid leave.

The bill allows leave if the employee needs to care for children under 18 whose school or daycare closes due to coronavirus, or whose child care is unavailable due to coronavirus. It would allow the first 10 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 tenth 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. For employees with variable hours each week, paid leave would be equal to the average number of hours worked per day over the previous six months. Finally, H.R. 6201 limits paid leave employer costs to $200 per day or $10,000 total for each employee and requires employers to make a reasonable effort to restore the employee to their previous position or an equivalent position with the same benefits, pay, and other employment conditions upon returning from leave.

Emergency Paid Sick Leave

H.R. 6201 requires governments and employers with 499 employees or fewer to provide paid sick time through December 31, 2020, if any employee is unable to work due to leave because:

  1. The employee is subject to government quarantine due to coronavirus;
  2. The employee is experiencing symptoms of coronavirus and needs an  examination or medical diagnosis;
  3. The employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to coronavirus; or
  4. The employee is caring for someone who is subject to government quarantine due to coronavirus, or who is experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, who needs an examination or medical diagnosis related to coronavirus; or
  5. The employee is caring for a child whose school/child care has closed due to coronavirus.

The Secretary of Labor is allowed to exclude (1) employers of certain health care providers and emergency responders, and (2) exempt small businesses with fewer than 50 employees from providing paid leave. Full-time employees would be entitled to 80 hours of paid sick time, while part-time employees would be eligible for an amount of leave equal to their normal scheduled hours during a two-week period. Under the bill, paid sick time must be immediately available for employees regardless of how long the employee has been at their job, and employers cannot require employees to use other paid leave before using paid sick time. Employees would be paid based upon the normal number of hours they are scheduled to work, which wouldn’t exceed $511 per day or $5,110 total if they are subject to items 1–3 above. Employees’ pay for sick time wouldn’t exceed $200 per day or $2,000 total if they are subject to items 4 and 5 above.

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 taking paid sick leave or filing a complaint against their employer over the use of paid sick leave. Finally, any remaining paid leave at the end of the year would not carry over to the following year.

Employer Tax Credits for Sick & Medical Leave

H.R. 6201 provides for payroll tax credits to employers to cover 100 percent of 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 subject to items 1–3 above, or $200 per day if the employee is subject to items 4 and 5 above. The aggregate number of days taken into account per employee is not permitted to exceed the excess of ten over the aggregate number of days taken into account for all preceding calendar quarters. 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

H.R. 6201 has been signed into law by President Trump and serves as another attempt by lawmakers to expand access to care related to the coronavirus. Leaders in Washington have now turned their attention to shoring up the financial markets and stabilizing various sectors of the economy. Currently, Congress and the White House are working on a third coronavirus package that will provide relief for the travel and leisure industries, provide direct payments to Americans, and inject much-needed dollars into the economy. We will continue to monitor the progress of the third coronavirus package and any subsequent developments.

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