Should essential workers get hazard pay? What we know about proposal for next stimulus

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Senate Democrats want this included in a follow-up stimulus package that could cost up to $1 trillion.

Even with stay at home orders in place in dozens of states across the nation, millions of Americans who have been deemed essential continue to report to work during the coronavirus outbreak.

Senate Democrats are proposing a boost in pay for those employees with something they’re calling a “Heroes Fund,” according to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Bob Casey, D-PA, is one of five co-sponsors of the measure they hope to add to the stimulus bill.

“For these Americans, working from home is not an option. Social distancing is not an option,” Schumer said.

Here’s what we know about who would be eligible, how much money would be made available, and the status of the proposal in Congress.

Which essential businesses would be eligible?

In their proposal, Democrats say employers in industries doing “essential work” would apply for the fund. These companies are not required to participate in the government-funded plan, but if they do, they would be required to track payments and return unspent funds to the federal government.

The plan calls for all federal government essential workers to be eligible. The proposal is clear in saying that funding would be “limited to frontline and public-facing positions,” not those who work in such industries remotely.

The payment would be made to those who have been employed since the federal declaration of a public health emergency on Jan. 27.

In a statement, Sen. Casey lists several professions as being eligible, including

  • Health Care professionals
  • First responders
  • Personal care, home health workers
  • Truck drivers
  • Grocery store workers

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“We are in a war against COVID-19, and we owe our gratitude to all of the workers who are putting their own health and safety at risk by fighting on the front lines of this pandemic,” Casey said in a statement.

Sen. Schumer has also mentioned drug store workers and pharmacists as among those who could be eligible. The Department of Homeland Security has a long list of other industries it advises to be considered as essential. 

How much money would essential workers get?

The bill proposes a $25,000 premium pay increase, but would be spaced out to be equivalent to a raise of $13 per hour from now until the end of 2020.

The bonus would be capped at $25,000 for each worker earning under $200,000 per year and limited to $5,000 for employees who earn above that amount.

Democrats are also proposing a one-time, essential worker recruitment incentive payment of $15,000 to keep health and home care workers along with first responders working those jobs.

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What’s the status of the proposal?

Senate Democrats are pushing for the proposal to be included in Congress’ Phase Four Stimulus Package.

The bill, which could have a price tag as high as $1 trillion, is expected to be debated and negotiated once representatives and senators return to Washington, D.C., during the week of April 20.

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Nate Chute is a producer with the USA Today Network. Follow him on Twitter at @nchute.

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