Week Ending March 13, 2020

National Emergency Declared as Congress Works to Get Ahead of the Crisis

  • Families First 2nd Supplemental in Response to Coronavirus Outbreak

Families First 2nd Supplemental in Response to Coronavirus

Congress is working to quickly pass a second coronavirus response bill, the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” (H.R. 6201) that continues to respond to the unfolding national emergency and health crisis that is taking hold in the country. This is on the heels of the first supplemental passed last week and signed into law, which provided $8.6 billion in emergency funding. The new package will further protect Americans and their families from the coronavirus health crisis and begin to respond to the resulting economic crisis. Key provisions of the bill, which AFSCME worked to add, include:

  • Medicaid Funding: The federal contribution supporting each state’s Medicaid program would increase by 6.2% under the revised bill, down from 8% in the initial bill introduced by Pelosi. This federal increase in funds allows states to address immediate public health needs while maintaining Medicaid eligibility and benefits during the pandemic. Federal Medicaid funds for U.S. territories will also be increased.
  • COVID-19 Testing: With so much uncertainty, cost should not be the barrier to getting tested for the virus. Whether people get their health coverage through their job, Medicaid, Medicare or the Affordable Care Act, the bill requires testing to be covered at no cost. States will also have the option to cover testing for uninsured individuals through their Medicaid programs, with federal funds picking up this cost.
  • Worker Protections: At present, there is no federal worker protection standard for infectious diseases. AFSCME supported the provision in the initial bill, which directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an emergency temporary standard for health care workers and others at high risk of exposure to COVID-19 within a month. This important provision to protect workers and the public is not in the revised bill. AFSCME will continue to press Congress to enact the "COVID–19 Health Care Worker Protection Act of 2020”(S. 3475), introduced by Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), which tracks the legislative language in the initial bill and ensures all public service workers at high risk of exposure are covered by the required OSHA standard no matter where they live.

In addition to health and safety issues, during an economic downturn, larger numbers of people are laid off and families are most in need of public safety-net programs such as unemployment insurance (UI) and food assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Expanding UI and SNAP will prevent larger economic spikes. The “Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” will help the economy and address human needs with:

  • Enhanced Unemployment Insurance (UI): UI is an important tool that can help protect families from hardship and stabilize our economy during uncertain times. The bill provides emergency administrative funding, which AFSCME supported, for state agencies to staff up to assist an increased number of people who have been immediately impacted by the coronavirus. This bill authorizes $1 billion in UI funding. The first $500 million would be based on the current distribution formula and would automatically flow to states that have increased claims attributable to the outbreak. The second $500 million would flow to states that take certain COVID-19-related emergency steps, including waiving the work search requirement; waiving the waiting period to get benefits to workers as fast as possible; and ensuring that employers understand that their experience rating – or UI tax rate – will not be affected by outbreak-related claims.
  • Increasing Access to Food Assistance: When the economy is struggling more people and their families rely on food assistance. This bill will increase access to food by temporarily suspending work/training requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It increases the SNAP benefit amount. The bill allows the use of disaster SNAP and disaster provisions of other federal nutrition programs to provide nutrition resources for low-income consumers who lack resources, and to make up for disrupted school meals service. Extra funding is provided to help students who depend on school meals during this crisis by expanding access to the Summer Food Program, including to those whose families do not receive SNAP benefits. And, under the policy, the government would issue school meal and SNAP waivers nationwide.
  • Paid Leave: Paid leave policies should serve as national standards for public health preparedness. In a public health emergency, the decision of how and when to take time is shifted away from workers to broader community needs to effectively respond to a range of public health threats, including infectious diseases. But, of the 155 million plus workers in the United States, 34 million don’t have access to any type of paid leave. This bill mandates that all workers be able to take up to two weeks of guaranteed paid sick leave and family leave if impacted by COVID-19. Workers who must stay home in quarantine or to take care of a loved one because of school closures or sickness will now have the means to continue to support their families. AFSCME is a leader in supporting measures to ensure full-time and part-time workers have job-protected paid sick days to care for themselves, their children or other family members.

What You Need to Know: Congress continues to work on this crisis and new policies that will protect Americans and help contain and combat this pandemic. It is very likely that there will be a third emergency response bill soon. AFSCME will continue to push for policies that will help our members, particularly our front line workers.

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