The COVID-19 “relief” bill won’t cut it

In the midst of an unprecedented crisis, Congress is failing the American people. While Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans stalled and twiddled their thumbs in the face of a pandemic before finally passing the House’s relief bill, the bill itself did little to help the workers most in need of assistance. Its paid leave provision, which should have been the centerpiece of any response to a growing pandemic, leaves too many workers with no option but to go to work sick, potentially spreading the virus further.

The original draft of the legislation instituted a permanent 7 day paid leave policy, with an extension to 10 days during any public health emergency. But under demands from Congressional Republicans, the Trump Administration, and corporate lobbyists, Democrats agreed to blow massive holes in their bill, creating major gaps in coverage.

One of the biggest loopholes is that any company who employs over 500 people is exempted from these requirements. In other words large employers like McDonalds, Walmart, or Amazon are not required to give any paid sick leave at all, which automatically leaves roughly 54% of American workers out.

Another 26% of the workforce works at small businesses of under 50 employees, who would be able to ask the Department of Labor for hardship exemptions.

At the end of the day, only 20% of American workers are guaranteed any paid sick leave from this law.

It’s no secret that the President will fight to protect the profits of massive corporations. His Administration’s first significant action in response to the virus to invite the CEOs of large employers to the White House to congratulate them for… well no one’s quite sure what they did exactly.

But that doesn’t mean the House has to play his game.

Now is not the time for incrementalism. We cannot try and slowly and gradually expand programs through a long slog of negotiation. The crisis is here, and we need to respond aggressively.

By failing to ensure paid sick leave for every American, we are ensuring that the people who handle our food in restaurants and grocery stores, who handle the products we buy online and in retail stores, or gig economy workers who are driving people in their cars or cleaning houses, do not have the ability to stay home when they’re sick. That is going to make the spread of this pandemic significantly worse.

If they get so sick they have no choice but to stay home, they’ll be losing income for weeks at a time, and won’t be able to pay their phone bills, rents, mortgages, car payments, or credit card payments. That’s going to wreak havoc on our economic recovery, and send us into a prolonged recession.

This could all be preventable, but we need paid sick leave for every American, and we need it now.

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