Revised COVID-19 Bill Passes House

March 17, 2020

On Monday night, the House passed the revised coronavirus bill by unanimous consent, scaling back the proposed leave offering and providing an exemption for small businesses. The Senate could vote on passage as early as today.

In the revised technical correction legislation, the House modified a program aimed at providing paid leave to people affected by the coronavirus. The new measure would still provide two weeks of sick leave to a wide swath of workers affected by the pandemic, including those who are in quarantine, caring for family members with Covid-19, and those who have children whose schools or day-care centers have closed.

But for the next 10 weeks, paid leave would be limited only to workers caring for a child whose school or day care had been shut. Health-care providers and emergency responders, as well as workers who had been in quarantine or caring for a family member affected by the virus wouldn’t be eligible for the additional 10 weeks of leave.

In the original version, all the workers who received paid sick time would be eligible for another 10 weeks of paid leave at two-thirds pay, in what would have represented a major expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the 1993 law that provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave to workers at larger companies.

The mandate applies only to companies with fewer than 500 employees, and sets up a mechanism for the government to reimburse through a tax credit employers who pay workers’ wages while they are absent. However, businesses with fewer than 50 workers could also win exemptions under rules to be developed by the Department of Labor (DOL).

NSBA has urged Congress and the administration to treat the current bill they are working on as only a first step. Further actions are needed to strengthen the economy and specifically improve and protect small-business cash-flow. The short-term cash-crunch that many small businesses will face could force otherwise successful companies to close, further deepening an economic downturn. Maintaining small business cash-flow and liquidity will be key to enabling successful small businesses to get to the other side of this crisis.

Potential approaches NSBA recommends include:

  • Significant payroll tax relief/holiday
  • Significantly ramped-up lending programs with delayed pay-back and low/no interest
  • Tax credits (refundable) to small businesses, including pass-throughs
  • Avoid industry-specific solutions only, as the economic impacts are wide-reaching
  • Allow flexibility in scheduling and paid leave for small employers
  • Avoid new and complex leave reimbursement programs many small businesses realistically can’t “float”

Click here to access NSBA’s resource center on COVID-19