While much of the discussion on the next coronavirus relief package has centered on stimulus checks, renewing the federal unemployment benefits and extending a federal moratorium on evictions, hazard pay for essential workers has fallen through the cracks. Although it was included in the HEROES Act passed by House Democrats in May, Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell's proposed HEALS Act, included none at all. With no federal hazard pay programs, some cities and states have been left to create their own.
The HEROES Act, which would cost over $3 trillion, allocated $200 billion for the creation of a "Heroes Fund." It would pay an additional $13 per hour for essential frontline workers up to $25,000 if earning less than $200,000 and $5,000 if earning over $200,000, notes Forbes. This would continue through the end of 2020 and would be retroactive back to Jan. 25. The fund also included a $15,000 recruitment incentive for first responders and home care workers who sign on to work during the pandemic. Some money will also go to relatives if a person dies while doing the essential work.
The HEALS Act proposal did not include any hazard pay. However, Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah did introduce a hazard pay proposal in May called "Patriot Pay." This would provide an extra $12 an hour to essential workers earning under $90,000 through a refundable tax credit. "Health care professionals, grocery store workers, food processors, and many others — the unsung patriots on the frontline of this pandemic — every day risk their safety for the health and well-being of our country, and they deserve our unwavering support," Romney wrote in a press release on May 1. He called the proposal a "way for us to reward our essential workers as they continue to keep Americans safe, healthy, and fed."
Meanwhile, essential workers are speaking out, calling on Washington to help them out as coronavirus cases continue to rise while they have to work to help their families. "I think some pay increase would be wonderful because I don't think they understand the toll that comes through in our lives," Courtney Meadows, a grocery cashier in West Virginia, told Brookings. "They don't see the panic on people's faces." Sabrina Hopps, who works at an acute care facility in Washington, D.C., said she feared bringing the virus back home to her family.
Some states and cities have started hazard pay programs on their own, using funds from CARES Act funding. For example, Vermont has its Front-Line Employees Hazard Pay Grant Program, which entitles workers making less than $25 per hour and working in a job with "elevated risk" between March 13 and May 15 up to $2,000. Pennsylvania established the COVID-19 PA Hazard Pay Grant Program, which helps employees making less than $20 per hour, but applications expired on July 31.