House Passes $3 Trillion HEROES Act to Provide More Coronavirus Relief

Senate will now consider the bill

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The U.S. House of Representatives approved another coronavirus relief package, which would provide funds for state and local governments, hazard pay for front-line workers, expanded paid-leave benefits, and student-loan debt forgiveness. The Senate will now consider the bill, though it is not expected to pass in its current form.

The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES) Act is named for the heroes of the coronavirus pandemic—health care workers, first responders, teachers and "transit, food, sanitation and other essential workers who risk their lives to save lives and who could now lose their jobs," according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. She said the act focuses on three pillars:

  • Opening the economy safely and soon.
  • Honoring U.S. heroes.
  • Providing more money directly to individuals.

"We can all agree that we must open our economy as quickly as we can, but we must do so based on science and data," Pelosi said. "The key to opening the door is testing, tracing, treatment and social distancing."

Senate Republicans, however, vowed to block the HEROES Act. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the bill "a Democratic wish list" that would allow for "sweeping changes to election laws" and funding for cannabis studies.

"Senate Republicans are preparing a major package of COVID-related liability reforms to foster economic recovery," McConnell said on Twitter. Proposals in the Senate highlight business immunity from coronavirus-related lawsuits, particularly as more employers make plans to open their worksites.

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HEROES Act Details

The Democrat-backed HEROES Act, H.R. 6800, includes a number of provisions that would impact the workplace. For instance, more nonprofits would be eligible for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, which offer relief to struggling small businesses that keep workers on payroll during the pandemic. Employers would be allowed to use PPP loans for longer than the currently approved eight-week period and would have until Dec. 31—rather than June 30—under loan forgiveness rules to rehire laid-off workers. More funds would also be available to small businesses through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.

Matthew Deffebach, an attorney with Haynes and Boone in Houston and Orange County, Calif., noted that employers should track the HEROES Act's proposed expansion of emergency paid-leave benefits.

The act would extend eligibility for paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) to workers at companies with 500 or more employees. More workers would be eligible to take Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act (EFMLA) leave, and the leave would be available for more reasons than just coronavirus-related childcare needs.

Under the HEROES Act, employers could be reimbursed by the federal government for offering hazard and incentive pay to certain essential workers, and the federal government's $600 weekly supplement to state unemployment benefits would continue until Jan. 31, 2021. The extra unemployment payments are currently set to expire on July 31. 

The bill contains several immigration-related provisions of interest to employers. Additionally, it would allocate billions in aid to states, local governments, territories and tribal authorities, and many individuals and families would be eligible for another round of direct payments.

"We all know that we must put more money in the pockets of the American people," Pelosi said. "Direct payments, unemployment insurance, rental and mortgage help, and food and student loan assistance, among other things, are essential to relieve the fear that many families are facing."

McConnell criticized the bill as including "tax hikes on small businesses, tax cuts for blue-state millionaires and taxpayer-funded diversity detectives for the pot industry."

Business Immunity

As more businesses make plans to reopen, lawmakers are split on whether to hold employers responsible for shielding workers from COVID-19. Some lawmakers want to protect employers from coronavirus-related lawsuits, but others are concerned such protection would lead to employers not taking proper steps to safeguard workers.

"Senate and House Republicans are united in our demand that health care workers, small businesses, and other Americans on the front lines of this fight must receive strong protections from frivolous lawsuits," said McConnell and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in a joint statement.

Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, has proposed the Employer and Employee COVID Protection Act, which would provide immunity from coronavirus lawsuits to employers that comply with state and federal laws on reopening. Employees who have health concerns would be able to request special accommodations from their employer and would remain eligible for unemployment benefits if returning to work is too risky.

"Many businesses are concerned about reopening due to the risk associated with being held liable if one of their employees contracts coronavirus after coming back to work," Turner said. "This bill is proactive and seeks to protect complying businesses and employees as we begin to restart the economy."

Democrat lawmakers, however, are concerned that granting businesses immunity from lawsuits would hurt workers. "At the time of this coronavirus challenge, especially now, we have every reason to protect our workers and our patients in all of this," Pelosi said during a press conference.

The HEROES Act would provide funds to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration "for worker protection and enforcement activities to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus" issues in the workplace. 


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