Democrats have unveiled the new stimulus proposal called the Heroes Act, they are calling for more stimulus checks.
Now, a small part of the Heroes Act is the creation of a roughly $190 billion COVID-19 Heroes Fund administered by the Treasury Department.
So a small part of the Heroes, which is the big 1800-plus page bill, is the Heroes Fund.
Now let’s be honest here, the Heroes Act is not going to pass in its current form, it’s just not, Lindsey Graham said it himself, it’s dead on arrival in the Senate.
But this isn’t to say that possibly, possibly, even Republicans who are taking a wait and see approach here may get on board with bits of pieces of what’s proposed in the Heroes Act, and I think that’s the best that Democrats can hope for.
And one aspect of the Heroes Act is the Heroes Fund. And maybe this idea has a shot at bipartisan support.
Heroes Act Proposes $1 Trillion for State and Local Governments
Before I talk specifically about the Heroes Fund, let me say that the Heroes Act proposes to allocate nearly one trillion dollars in assistance to state and local and tribal governments and also territories through a Coronavirus State Fiscal Relief Fund and a Coronavirus Local Fiscal Relief Fund overseen by the Treasury Inspector General, and states and local governments have to use this money, “to respond to, mitigate, and cover costs or replace foregone revenue not projected on January 31, 2020, stemming from the public health emergency, or its negative economic impacts, with respect to COVID-19.”
Pelosi was shooting for more state and local government funding.
Obviously some of these trillion dollars worth of funds would replenish state and local coffers to be able to pay many of the individuals qualifying as “heroes” their normal wages. So that’s one thing.
But this Heroes Fund is something else, this is the premium pay, the hazard pay as some people call it.
What’s the Deal With This Heroes Fund?
It’s basically a proposed pay increase for essential worker employees, and I will tell you the 33 fields that would count as essential workers, but let’s go through the math first.
So it’s $13 an hour premium pay on top of regular wages for up to $10,000 — and that $10,000 would include the payroll taxes on the wages, by the way — for work performed from January 27, 2020, all the way through 60 days after the last day of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, that is the emergency declared by the Secretary of Health and Human Services in January, not the presidential national emergency declared in March.
So any retroactive amount will be given to you on your next paycheck or two and then if you haven’t hit that $10,000 cap, you would continue to get that premium pay in your future paychecks until you hit that cap.
The maximum is $5,000 — and again, that amount would include the payroll taxes on the wages — now if you are a “highly compensated” worker earning more than $200,000, the maximum is not $5,000 but $10,000.
But I’m going to assume that you’re not in that category.
So just some rough math, and I’m ignoring the fact that payroll taxes count toward the cap as well, so this isn’t quite exact, it’s a bit back-of-the-napkin, but just roughly speaking $10,000 maximum divided by $13 premium pay gives you 769 hours, it’s already been 15 weeks since January 27, so if you’ve worked 40 hours a week times 15 weeks, that’s already 600 hours right there, another 4 more weeks of full-time employment plus some change, and you’ve maxed it.
If you’re an essential worker who contracts COVID-19 and passes away, your next of kin would receive the remainder of your premium pay as a lump sum.
Now, employers have to apply for these $10,000 grants, and like I said they will cover not only the wages but also the payroll taxes. Unused funds must be returned to the Treasury, and employers can’t dock your pay as a result of this program.
The grants are tax-free to employers, but on the other hand they can’t deduct the wages and payroll taxes paid from the grants received.
However, for employees, these premium pay amounts are taxable wages.
Also, do independent contractors count? Yes.
Here’s what the bill says about that: “The term ‘essential worker’ means an individual, whose work and duties include essential work — and I will tell you what that means in a minute — whose work and duties include essential work and who is an employee of an employer or an individual performing any services or labor for remuneration for an employer, regardless of whether the individual is classified as an independent contractor by the employer.”
It also says that essential workers include individuals regardless of their immigration status.
What Qualifies as Essential Work?
It cannot be work-from-home telecommuting stuff, it has to be work where there are regular interactions with the public, patients, and/or coworkers or regular physical handling of items that were handled by or are to be handled by the public, patients, and/or coworkers.
Now, here’s the list of 33 fields that the HEROES Act spells out:
- First responders, including services in response to emergencies that have the potential to cause death or serious bodily injury, so that would include firefighters, police officers, EMTs, those who work in prisons, those who intervene in domestic violence or child abuse situations.
- Health care work physically provided in inpatient settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, inpatient rehab facilities, and other related settings.
- Health care work physically provided in outpatient settings, including doctors’ offices, community health centers, clinics, and other related settings.
- Pharmacy work, so that’s pharmacists, pharm techs, etc.
- Any work performed in a facility that performs medical testing and diagnostic services, including laboratory processing, medical testing services, or related activities.
- Home and community-based work, including home health care, home health aids, job coaches, or any other provision of care to individuals in their homes by direct service providers, so if say you’re for example an occupational therapist and you don’t work in a hospital, but you go visit people in their homes, that counts.
- Those who work in biomedical research who are researching coronavirus that involves the handling of hazardous materials such as COVID-19 samples.
- Behavioral health work requiring physical interaction with individuals, including mental health services and substance use disorder prevention, treatment, and recovery services.
- Nursing care and residential care work physically provided in a facility.
- Family care, including child care services, nanny services, and even — get this — care services provided by family members to other family members.
- Social services work, including social work, case management, child welfare, family services, shelter services, homeless shelter, domestic violence shelter, all that counts.
- Public health work conducted at public health agencies.
- Tribal vital services for Native Americans. So that was all the occupations related to health.
- Grocery work physically performed at grocery stores, supermarkets, convenience stores, corner stores, drug stores, and similar establishments.
- Restaurant work, including carry-out, drive-thru, or food delivery work requiring physical interaction with individuals or food products.
- Food production work involving the physical interaction with food products, including agricultural work, farming, fishing, forestry, ranching, processing, canning, slaughtering, packaging, baking, butchering, and other food production work.
- Transportation work, this includes public transportation. It also includes the private transportation of people, such as transportation provided by air, rail, bus, taxicab, personal care or truck, non-motorized vehicle, or otherwise. It also includes private transportation of goods in bulk including truck driving, rail, air. It also includes the transportation of mail and the transportation of food or other goods to individuals, including in a personal car or truck, non-motorized vehicle (so that would include bikes, scooters, etc.), or otherwise. Passenger rail counts as transportation, such as Amtrak. Air transportation. Boat transportation, very, very broad.
- Work physically performed in a warehouse or other facility in warehousing, so this is very broad, picking, sorting, packing, shipping, storage, distribution, call center to facilitate the transportation and delivery of goods.
- Cleaning work, building maintenance, janitorial services, security services, custodial services, repair and maintenance services.
- Garbage collection, collection, removal, transportation, storage, or disposal of residential, industrial, or commercial solid waste, including recycling.
- News, so work in the gathering, processing, disseminating, and delivery of news and information that serves the public interest to the public through mass media, including television, radio, and newspapers.
- Any work that a state, locality, or tribe determines to be essential.
- Educational work, so that’s teachers, also includes school nutrition work, other work required to operate a school facility, including early childhood programs, preschool programs, all the way through elementary, middle school, high school, and even college.
- Elections work.
- Hazardous materials management, response, and cleanup work, including health care waste and testing operations waste, such as cleaning up laboratory testing kits.
- Disinfection work for essential services.
- Work in critical clinical research, development, and testing necessary for COVID-19 response that involves physical interaction with hazardous materials, such as samples of COVID-19.
- Mortuary, funeral, cremation, burial, cemetery, you work in one of those, you count.
- Physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech language pathology, respiratory therapy, other kinds of physical therapy, all counts.
- Dental work.
- Postal service work.
- Work at hotel and commercial lodging facilities that are used for COVID-19 mitigation and containment.
Remember, this HEROES Act ain’t passing as is, but Republicans might be willing to accept bits and pieces of it, I think that’s the best that Democrats can hope for.