The U.S. House of Representatives approved another coronavirus relief package, which would provide funds for state and local governments, hazard pay for front-line workers, expanded paid-leave benefits, and student-loan debt forgiveness. The Senate will now consider the bill, though it is not expected to pass in its current form.
The HEROES Act, H.R. 6800, includes a number of provisions that would impact the workplace. For instance, more nonprofits would be eligible for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, which offer relief to struggling small businesses that keep workers on payroll during the pandemic. Currently, 501C6 organizations, including the National Trailer Dealers Association, do not qualify for any form of relief under the CARES Act. Employers would be allowed to use PPP loans for longer than the currently approved eight-week period and would have until Dec. 31 — rather than June 30 — under loan forgiveness rules to rehire laid-off workers. More funds would also be available to small businesses through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.
The act would extend eligibility for paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) to workers at companies with 500 or more employees. More workers would be eligible to take Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act (EFMLA) leave, and the leave would be available for more reasons than just coronavirus-related childcare needs.
Under the HEROES Act, employers could be reimbursed by the federal government for offering hazard and incentive pay to certain essential workers, and the federal government’s $600 weekly supplement to state unemployment benefits would continue until Jan. 31, 2021. The extra unemployment payments are currently set to expire on July 31.
The bill contains several immigration-related provisions of interest to employers. Additionally, it would allocate billions in aid to states, local governments, territories and tribal authorities, and many individuals and families would be eligible for another round of direct payments.
As more businesses make plans to reopen, lawmakers are split on whether to hold employers responsible for shielding workers from COVID-19. Some lawmakers want to protect employers from coronavirus-related lawsuits, but others are concerned such protection would lead to employers not taking proper steps to safeguard workers.