On March 18, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) was signed into law. While the law took some major steps to help working people get through the pandemic there’s still a lot more that could be included. Outlined below are the key provisions in the bill and what is still missing.
New Federal Medicaid Funds: Federal contributions to support state and territorial Medicaid programs increased by 6.2%. This $36 billion cash influx will certainly help alleviate the unexpected and ever-expanding public health needs and keep vulnerable populations covered during the pandemic. However, as the virus spreads more funds are going to be needed quickly.
COVID-19 Testing: Thanks to this bill COVID-19 testing will be administered at no cost. The bill also creates a new medicaid option for states to cover uninsured individuals for testing. Undocumented immigrants are irresponsibly exluded though. During this crisis everyone needs to be tested.
Enhanced Unemployment Insurance (UI): The bill makes $1 billion available to states to help meet the demand for the increased number of UI filings. The money will not only provide funds necessary to meet demand but will also allow states to increase staff to better process the increased filings.
Increased Access to Food Assistance: The bill provides emergency SNAP assistance to families with children missing meals due to school closures and expands federal support for senior meals and food banks. The work requirements tied to SNAP are also suspended. Overall, $400 million has been allocated for an emergency food assistance program that will be available through September 30, 2021.
Limited Emergency Paid Leave: The bill mandates that all public and private employers with fewer than 500 employees provide two weeks of emergency guaranteed paid sick leave and up to 10 more weeks of emergency family medical leave for those impacted by COVID-19. The bill states employers cannot require employees to find a replacement worker or use vacation days or other paid time off. However, the bill creates a loophole for health care employers to opt out of these new emergency requirements. Another loophole allows the Secretary of Labor to exempt small businesses. This is perhaps the most glaring shortcoming in the law, there should be no exemptions when it comes to providing paid sick leave.
Next Steps: There will be more relief bills to come as we navigate through this difficult time. The AFL-CIO will continue to fight for protections for workers on the front line of the pandemic and funding for UI benefits and food assistance programs for the affected workers.