WASHINGTON—President Trump signed the “Family First Coronavirus Response Act” following its 90–8 passage in the U.S. Senate yesterday. The legislation requires health insurers to cover the costs of testing for and treatment of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) at no cost to policyholders, provides an additional $1 billion for nutrition assistance programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, provides $1 billion to states to help bolster state unemployment insurance systems and adds new paid-time-off requirements for smaller businesses for employees affected by COVID-19.
The legislation, which originated in the House this past weekend, takes effect within 15 days of the president’s signing.
Read a detailed breakdown of the bill by NACS labor counsel Fisher Phillips here.
Small employers who have less than 500 employees will be subject to the new paid-time-off provisions of the bill. They will be required to pay for two weeks of sick leave to any employee who contracts COVID-19 or needs to care for other family members who have contracted the disease or qualify under other specific scenarios outlined in the legislation.
Those same employers also will be required to provide paid Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) time to employees who need to care for a family member stricken with COVID-19 or care for a child whose school or childcare is closed due to COVID-19 concerns. Employers may require that the first 10 days of that FMLA time be taken unpaid unless the employee elects to use other accrued paid time off, such as the required sick leave or other accumulated vacation time. For the remainder of the time, up to 60 days, employees must be paid at 67% of their usual rate of pay.
However, “the act now includes language allowing the Secretary of Labor to exclude healthcare providers and emergency responders from the definition of employees who are allowed to take such leave, and to exempt small businesses with fewer than 50 employees if the required leave would jeopardize the viability of their business,” Fisher Phillips explained.
Covered employers will be eligible for quarterly tax credits equal to 100% of the costs of the leave taken against their employer share of Social Security taxes. The credits are refundable, meaning if an employers’ social security tax liability is less than the amount of their available credit they will receive a refund of the additional amount.
It is important to note that the mandates under this act are specific to COVID-19-related situations and not any other reason an employee may seek time off. The provisions also expire at the end of 2020.
Meanwhile, Congress has turned its attention to what is being called phase 3 of its coronavirus response—a massive economic stimulus package that is likely to include financial support for the transportation industry and more support for businesses impacted by the economic downturn resulting from the pandemic. The package also is likely to include a proposed $500 billion in direct payments to American households.
The Senate will remain in session until that package is finished, which is expected by this weekend. The House, which is currently in recess, is likely to come back soon after to finalize and pass the package.
NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.