Senate Democrats unveiled a proposal Tuesday that would boost the pay of essential workers on the frontlines of the battle against the coronavirus pandemic by potentially tens of thousands of dollars.
As much as $25,000 in hazard pay would be afforded over a period of time to those deemed essential, including employees in health care, drug stores, grocery stores, sanitation workers, truck drivers, transportation workers and all federal employees with frontline positions, such as Postal Service workers.
"Not all heroes wear capes," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters on a conference call Tuesday. "For these Americans, working from home is not an option. Social distancing is not an option."
The raise would be equivalent to $13 per hour and would apply retroactively from the start of the health crisis emergency on January 27 until the end of the year, Schumer said.
Health care workers also could receive a one-time premium of up to $15,000 as part of a program to recruit and retain certain medical employees in fields experiencing shortages. The benefits would be applied retroactively for those already working on the frontlines and to the families of health care workers who've died as a result of coronavirus.
"We are asking these workers to take on great risk. They should be compensated for it," Schumer said. "These Americans are the true heroes of this pandemic, and we need to make sure they are taken care of. They are there for us, so we must be there for them."Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer leaves after speaking to the press prior to attending a meeting to discuss a potential economic bill in response to the coronavirus, COVID-19, in Washington, D.C., on March 20. Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty
The proposal, which Democrats have dubbed the "Heroes Fund," is being led by Senators Schumer, Patty Murray of Washington state, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Tom Udall of New Mexico and Gary Peters of Michigan.
Essential workers not part of the health care recruitment program who earn less than $200,000 per year would receive a maximum premium pay of $25,000 while those who make more than $200,000 would get a maximum of $5,000. The extra pay would apply through December 31 or until the worker's salary-based maximum premium pay is reached.
The federal funds would be distributed to employers, who would need to apply for the money for its employees. The federal agency that would be responsible for distributing the resources is yet to be determined, Schumer said. A total price tag for the package is also unknown.
The proposition comes as Democrats in Congress are aggressively pushing for a fourth stimulus package in the coming weeks to combat the sharp economic downturn and increase in unemployment numbers.
The Heroes Fund would need significant buy-in from Republicans. Schumer sidestepped a question on whether he's spoken to his GOP counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). McConnell's office did not respond to Newsweek's inquiry.
"We hope that our Republican colleagues will join us in noting that this Heroes Fund and hazard pay proposal is so very needed," Schumer said. "I think it should get strong, bipartisan support."
Meanwhile, Democrats on the other side of the Capitol building in the House have changed course from advocating for a digital infrastructure-focused bill to pushing for an extension of the historic $2 trillion package recently passed, which would mean more individual checks, relief for small businesses and expanded unemployment benefits.
But Republicans will be a tougher sell, no matter the direction Democrats want to take for a fourth stimulus. GOP lawmakers have advocated to allow time for the third package to reach businesses and workers before doling out more federal money.
However, President Donald Trump has signaled he's on board with another round of direct relief for Americans. Trump said Monday that the idea of providing more checks is "absolutely under serious consideration."
The timeline for a fourth stimulus remains fluid, as Congress won't reconvene until the week of April 20, at the earliest. From there, it will take intense negotiations to reach a final deal that's able to get Democrats, Republicans and the White House on board.