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Senate Democrats push pandemic hazard pay for front-line workers

Proposal would provide essential personnel up to a total of $25,000 each through end of the year

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said Tuesday Democrats want to create a “hero fund” of $13 per hour for essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said Tuesday Democrats want to create a “hero fund” of $13 per hour for essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Democrats on Tuesday proposed providing hazard pay to essential workers, including nurses and grocery store clerks, of $13 per hour in additional wages during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said the proposal would be one of their “very highest priorities” for the next round of relief legislation that Congress is expected to consider to respond to the economic and health effects of the pandemic.

“They deserve it. They’re risking their lives. They’re going through unusual changes in their lives,” Schumer said on a press call. “That’s why we believe that this is a heroes fund and that they deserve it.”

[Investors managing $4.7 trillion urge firms to resist layoffs amid pandemic]

The proposal would provide up to a total of $25,000 to each front-line worker — such as doctors and other health care workers, janitors, truck drivers, grocery store clerks and transit workers — from the beginning of the public health emergency through the end of this year. The bonus pay for workers earning more than $200,000 per year, however, would be capped at $5,000 instead of $25,000. Democrats say they are still seeking input on which employees would be eligible for the premium pay.

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Democrats are also proposing a recruitment incentive of $15,000 for front-line medical workers to build and maintain the health care workforce responding to the pandemic.

A white paper outlining the proposal does not clarify how the money would be administered or how much the program would cost, but it does state that the program would be fully funded. The federal government would partner with eligible employers to issue the funds. Front-line federal workers would also be eligible for the new benefit.

The white paper further outlines that eligible employers would apply for the funds to be added to their employees’ or independent contractors’ paychecks. Employers would not be required to participate.

Schumer said he had not yet spoken with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or other Republicans about the proposal. He did not say whether Democrats would insist upon including hazard pay in a measure to provide additional funds for small-business loans set up in the last measure that Congress approved to respond to the pandemic.

“I think it should get strong bipartisan support. We’re just putting the proposal out today, and now we’ll try to round up support,” he said.

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