by Connor Semelsberger
March 23, 2020
Things are moving rapidly in our nation’s capital as our government attempts to respond to the coronavirus. On March 18th, President Donald Trump signed H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which is the second phase of coronavirus response legislation. Here is a look at how this legislation will impact you and your family.
Testing: One of the main legislative requests, both from President Trump and Congress, was to speed up testing across the country. This bill directly addresses that need by appropriating $1.2 billion to help cover the costs of coronavirus testing. With this new funding, access to coronavirus tests will increase dramatically while costs will come down to zero. If you are experiencing symptoms or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, consult the CDC website to see testing protocols.
Food Assistance: The second piece to this bill is providing necessary food assistance to those affected most by this virus, mainly schoolchildren and senior citizens. This package includes an additional $500 million to the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which is a critical program that helps low-income women and their children access healthy and nutritious food. The bill also sets aside funding to ensure that children from low-income families can receive a meal from the school lunch program if their school is closed longer than five days due to the coronavirus. State agencies will be responsible for administering these meals to schoolchildren.
This bill also contains $200 million for senior nutrition programs, including extra money for home delivered-meals and meals at senior centers. Since the elderly are most at risk of dying from the coronavirus, it is important that the government provides specific funding to ensure that the elderly can still access food in this difficult time.
Medical and Sick Leave Expansion: The major point of contention in H.R. 6201 was how to tackle medical and sick leave requirements.
First, H.R. 6201 expanded the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 to require employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide family leave for those needing time off to care for a child because their school or childcare provider closed due to the coronavirus. The legislation mandates 10 days of unpaid leave, and any remaining leave after 10 days must be paid. There are caps to limit paid leave to $200 a day, and these requirements do not apply to employers with fewer than 50 employees.
Second, this legislation requires all employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide two weeks of paid sick leave to any employee who has been advised to self-quarantine, is recovering from symptoms of the coronavirus, or is caring for a family member who has symptoms of the coronavirus. Paid leave is capped at $511 a day, and this coverage includes part-time and hourly employees. To ensure that small businesses are not disproportionately affected by this mandate, the Secretary of Labor has the authority to exempt certain small businesses if this requirement would jeopardize the viability of the business. There are also tax breaks to help employers cover the cost of this paid leave requirement.
These increased sick leave requirements are prudent measures to help workers affected by the virus. However, in the original bill and throughout negotiations, Democrats made several attempts to include controversial language that radically expands access to leave benefits in a way that alters longstanding social policy and weakens the family.
The term “domestic partnership” was inserted in several places throughout this bill, including in the definition of the word “spouse,” which should be reserved strictly for marriage. The injection of this term into federal statute in this manner takes advantage of our emergency posture and is unnecessary now that marriage has been redefined by the Supreme Court to include same-sex couples. It also further erodes marriage and family, the foundation of society, by equating a “domestic partnership” with the time-tested social building block of marriage.
“Domestic partnership” is also defined here to include a “committed relationship.” While we have nothing against the idea of “committed relationships” in general, the way that term was defined here—to include those 18 years or older who “share responsibility for a significant measure of each other’s common welfare”—would expand the benefits under this bill in a way that waters down the significance of the family structure and renders it virtually meaningless. The rushed nature with which these serious changes to family structure were considered for codification into federal law was further cause for concern for us.
The FRC team identified this problematic language and worked with key negotiators to make sure it was removed from the House-passed bill. However, removing this language did not sit well with the Democrat leaders, so when the bill was considered on the Senate floor, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) offered an amendment to re-insert this dramatic expansion into the medical and sick leave provisions. Our team alerted key senators about the damaging effects of this amendment, and fortunately, it was defeated by a vote of 47-51. H.R. 6201 passed absent the anti-family provisions, and was signed into law by President Trump on March 18th.
The federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has been swift, and for good reason. As these large spending packages continue to move through Congress, the FRC team will continue to remain vigilant and work to ensure they support faith, family, and freedom.