White House issues Families First Coronavirus Response Act

March 19, 2020

The legislation provides paid leave, establishes free testing, protects public health workers, and provides important benefits to children and families.

The Act Includes funding to ensure the domestic nutrition assistance programs have adequate resources to help those impacted by the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Funding is provided for:

• The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC) – $500 million to provide access to nutritious foods to low-income pregnant women or mothers with young children who lose their jobs or are laid off due to the COVID-19 emergency.

• The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) – $400 million to assist local food banks to meet increased demand for low-income Americans during the emergency. Of the total, $300 million is for the purchase of nutritious foods and $100 million is to support the storage and distribution of the foods. In addition –

▪ The legislation includes a general provision that allows the Department of Agriculture to approve state plans to provide emergency SNAP assistance to households with children who would otherwise receive free or reduced-price meals if not for their schools being closed due to the COVID-19 emergency. In order to be eligible, the child’s school must be closed for no less than 5 consecutive days

▪ Nutrition Assistance for U.S. Territories – $100 million for USDA to provide nutrition assistance grants to Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands tin response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

▪ Senior Nutrition Program – Includes $250 million for the Senior Nutrition program in the Administration for Community Living (ACL) to provide approximately 25 million additional home-delivered and pre-packaged meals to low-income seniors who depend on the Senior Nutrition programs in their communities.

▪ Provides the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to issue nationwide school meal waivers during the COVID-19 emergency, which will eliminate paperwork for states and help more schools quickly adopt and utilize flexibilities.

COVID-19 Health Care Worker Protection Act of 2020.

This section requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) within 30 days, requiring employers within the healthcare sector -- and any other sectors which either OSHA or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) designate at elevated risk -- to develop and implement a comprehensive infectious disease exposure control plan to protect health care workers from exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID19.

The ETS shall be based on the CDC’s 2007 “Guideline for Isolation Precautions: Preventing Transmission of Infectious Agents in Healthcare Settings’’ that was issued to protect healthcare workers against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). In addition, the ETS may not be less protective than the infectious disease precautions for novel pathogens issued by any OSHA state plan. OSHA shall issue a permanent health and safety standard, which the Occupational Safety and Health Act stipulates shall be issued 6 months after the ETS has been issued.

Amendments to the Social Security Act 4 Section 201. Application of COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard to Certain Facilities Receiving Medicare Funds.

This section requires that hospitals and skilled nursing facilities operated by state or local government agencies, which are not otherwise subject to the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 or a State occupational safety and health plan, shall comply with the ETS and the permanent OSHA standard required in this Act as a condition of receiving Medicare funds. A facility that fails to comply with the OSHA standards is subject to a civil monetary penalty in an amount similar to the amount OSHA may impose under the OSHA Act for a violation of a standard, but such facility is not subject to termination of an agreement with Medicare.

Emergency Paid Leave Act of 2020

This section creates a new federal emergency paid leave benefits program and defines an “emergency leave day” as a day in which an individual is unable to work due to one of four qualifying reasons related to COVID-19:

•        The worker has a current diagnosis of COVID-19.

•         The worker is quarantined (including self-imposed quarantine), at the instruction of a health care provider, employer, or government official, to prevent the spread of COVID19.

•         The worker is caring for another person who has COVID-19 or who is under a quarantine related to COVID-19.

•         The worker is caring for a child or other individual who is unable to care for themself due to the COVID-19-related closing of their school, childcare facility, or other care program. It also defines other key terms including “eligible individual,” which is someone who was working in the thirty days before they were impacted by COVID-19.

Emergency Paid Leave Benefits.

This section creates a new federal emergency paid leave benefit program. Eligible workers will receive a benefit for a month (up to three months) in which they must take 14 or more days of leave from their work due to the qualifying COVID-19-related reasons. Days when an individual receives pay from their employer (regular wages, sick pay, or other paid time off) or unemployment compensation do not count as leave days for purposes of this benefit. The program will be administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Specifications include the following:

•         Benefit amount: Two-thirds of the individual’s average monthly earnings (based on the most recent year of wages or self-employment income for which records are readily available), up to a cap of $4,000. • Program and benefit period: The benefits will be available for leave that occurs from January 19, 2020 (the date of the first U.S. COVID-19 diagnosis) through one year after the bill’s enactment.

•         Retroactive benefits: Benefits can be paid retroactively, and applications can be filed up to 6 months after enactment.

•         Application: Applications will be taken online, by phone, or by mail. Individuals will not visit SSA field offices to apply. Payments will in most cases be issued electronically.

Emergency Transfers for Unemployment Compensation Administration.

This section provides $1 billion in 2020 for emergency grants to states for activities related to processing and paying unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, under certain conditions. $500 million would be used to provide immediate additional funding to all states for staffing, technology, systems, and other administrative costs, so long as they met basic requirements about ensuring access to earned benefits for eligible workers.

Those requirements are:

•         Require employers to provide notification of potential UI eligibility to laid-off workers

•         Ensure that workers have at least two ways (for example, online and phone) to apply for benefits

•         Notify applicants when an application is received and being processed and if the application cannot be processed, provide information to the applicant about how to ensure successful processing. States would be required to report on the share of eligible individuals who received UI benefits and the state’s efforts to ensure access within one year of receiving the funding. The funding would be distributed in the same proportions as regular UI administrative funding provided through annual appropriations. $500 million would be reserved for emergency grants to states which experienced at least a10 percent increase in unemployment.

Paid Sick Days for Public Health Emergencies and Personal and Family Care Act The emergency paid sick days legislation:

▪ Requires all employers to allow employees to gradually accrue seven days of paid sick leave and to provide an additional 14 days available immediately in the event of any public health emergency, including the current coronavirus crisis; 

•         ▪ Requires all employers to provide an additional 14 days of paid sick leave, available immediately at the beginning of a public health emergency, including the current coronavirus crisis;

•         ▪ Ensures paid sick leave covers days when your child’s school is closed due to a public health emergency, when your employer is closed due to public health emergency, or if you or a family member is quarantined or isolated due to a public health emergency; 

•         ▪ Reimburses small businesses—defined as businesses with 50 or fewer employees—for the costs of providing the 14 days of additional paid sick leave used by employees during a public health emergency; 

•         ▪ Enables construction employees to receive sick pay based on hours they work for multiple contractors; and 

Coverage of Testing for COVID-19.

This section requires Medicare Part B to cover beneficiary cost-sharing for provider visits during which a COVID-19 diagnostic test is administered or ordered. Medicare Part B currently covers the COVID-19 diagnostic test with no beneficiary cost-sharing, and also requires Medicare Advantage to provide coverage for COVID-19 diagnostic testing, including the associated cost of the visit in order to receive testing. Coverage must be provided at no cost to the beneficiary.

White House has the statement

More COVID-19 coverage HERE.