Published: March 18th, 2020 at 2:41 PM PST | Updated: March 19th, 2020 at 10:10 AM PST
On Wednesday, March 18, 2020, President Donald Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201). The President’s action came only hours after the U.S. Senate voted to pass the emergency coronavirus bill.
Prior to Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed a bill on Monday night containing technical corrections to the original relief bill passed in the House over the weekend. Prior to the Senate vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) acknowledged the bill had some “imperfections” and that future legislation would be necessary.
The bill marks the second such aid package in the last few weeks and efforts are already underway to construct a third, larger relief measure.
What the Bill Includes
Free coronavirus testing
The bill calls for free testing for anyone whose doctor says a test is necessary. In these cases, patients would not be responsible for any deductibles or copayments. The free testing extends to those on Medicaid or Medicare and provides a pathway for uninsured people to access free testing through federal coverage programs.
Expanded family and medical leave*
The bill expands the existing family and medical leave program. Current law requires employers to give up to 12 weeks of job protected medical leave (meaning you cannot be fired), but does not require them to provide any pay during that time. The bill, however, provides paid leave for workers who receive a coronavirus diagnosis, care for a family member who has the virus, or care for a child or another dependent because of a school or care facility closures.
The bill provides those who qualify with two-thirds of their average monthly earnings, with a limit of $4,000, for up to 12 weeks. The benefits may be paid retroactively and are available for those who had to leave work starting January 19, 2020.
*There is a catch to all of this. The benefit applies only to companies with fewer than 500 employees. Anyone employed by a company larger than that is ineligible. It is notable that more than half of American workers serve companies with greater than 500 employees.
Paid emergency sick leave*
In addition expanding paid family leave, the bill establishes a new paid sick leave program. More specifically, it calls for employers to immediately grant 14 days of paid sick leave available to infected people, caretakers and parents whose children’s schools have closed.
Similar to family and medical leave, this benefit is available only to people working at companies with fewer than 500 employees. Small businesses (defined as having 50 employees or less) will receive reimbursement for providing the additional 14 days of paid sick leave.
For employers who already provide paid sick leave, the additional leave made available under the bill should still be provided, and employers are not allowed to make changes to their existing policies to avoid offering additional paid leave.
The relief bill provides additional funds to states that experience a 10% increase in unemployment. States must loosen eligibility requirements for unemployment, such as work search requirements or waiting periods.
The bill allocates an additional $500 million to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, which provides access to food for low-income pregnant women and mothers with young children who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 crisis. Similarly, the bill grants an additional $400 million to the Emergency Food Assistance Program, which will help food banks meet the expected increase in demand.
In the event of school closures lasting longer than 5 consecutive days, the bill allows states to provide money for food to families whose children receive free or reduced-price school meals. Furthermore, the bill provides emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program aid to families with children who receive free or reduced-price meals at school. The bill suspends work requirements for SNAP.
For older Americans, the bill offers emergency funding for programs like Home-Delivered Nutrition Services. These services are critical as they deliver meals to senior centers and older adults who live alone.
Protections for health care workers
Many health care workers could be at risk of being exposed to the coronavirus, especially as care facilities continue to fill up with sick patients. To help combat this, the bill requires state and local hospitals and nursing facilities, some of which are not subject to certain federal regulations, to comply with additional safety and health plans.
Disclaimer: This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to substitute for obtaining accounting, tax, or financial advice from a professional tax planner or financial planner. All information is provided “as is,” with no guarantee of completeness, accuracy, timeliness or of the results obtained from the use of this information.