January 22, 2021
President Biden has released the American Rescue Plan (ARP), a COVID-19 relief and stimulus package proposal. It includes individual stimulus checks and vaccine distribution resources, along with several pieces that, if passed, could impact employers and employer-sponsored healthcare.
The mandatory Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Extended Family and Medical Leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act expired at the end of 2020. These leave provisions are now optional. The ARP would extend mandatory emergency paid leave and extended paid family and medical leave measures until September 30, 2021.
It would also eliminate exemptions for employers with more than 500 and less than 50 employees, as well as those for healthcare workers and first responders. The plan would provide a maximum paid leave benefit of $1,400 per-week for eligible workers. This will provide full wage replacement to workers earning up to
The plan calls for reimbursing employers with less than 500 employees for the cost of this paid leave, and reimbursing state and local government for the cost of this leave.
The ARP calls for Congress to subsidize COBRA through the end of September. The plan does not include details on how the proposed subsidies would work, but states: “Roughly two to three million people lost employer sponsored health insurance between March and September, and even families who have maintained coverage may struggle to pay premiums and afford care. Further, going into this crisis, 30 million people were without coverage, limiting their access to the health care system in the middle of a pandemic,” and therefore calls for both COBRA subsidies and expanding and increasing the value of the Premium Tax Credit to lower or eliminate health insurance premiums.
The ARP calls for a federal minimum wage of $15 per hour, and ending the tipped minimum wage and sub-minimum wage for people with disabilities.
The ARP calls for Congress to authorize the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a COVID-19 Protection Standard that covers a broad set of workers, including workers not typically covered by OSHA, like many public workers active on COVID-19 response.
Prospects in Congress
Many of the provisions have already met criticism in Congress and there have been calls for a narrower, more modest package. The most recent COVID-19 relief package took six months to negotiate and pass.
Even with Democratic control of both houses on Congress, razor-thin margins, particularly in the 50-50 split Senate, present steep challenges to an aggressive legislative agenda from the White House.
The ARP can be considered an opening to negotiations, and various elements of the proposal are still evolving. SPBA will keep members apprised on any developments.
The factsheet on the ARP is available here: https://buildbackbetter.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/COVID_Relief-Package-Fact-Sheet.pdf