Amid viral panic across the country, H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, passed by an overwhelming majority of the U.S. House of Representatives on March 14.
The sweeping bill, which would fund paid sick leave, establish free coronavirus testing, create new protections for public health workers, boost unemployment insurance and provide benefits for children and families, is still awaiting a vote in the Senate.
President Donald Trump has endorsed the bill, but not all Republicans followed suit.
District 4 Congressional Rep. Tom McClintock, one of 40 members of the house that cast dissenting votes against the bill, said in a statement Monday that the bill was drafted and passed in a “general state of political panic.”
His main criticism was of a provision that would guarantee employees up to three months of paid leave after the public health crisis passed. That’d be an opportunity for people to take advantage of the system, according to McClintock.
The entitlement, under the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act, only applies to employers with less than 500 employees and would only be in effect for six months after enactment. Exemptions exist for small businesses with fewer than 50 employees under certain circumstances. The benefit – two-thirds of the individual’s average monthly earnings, with a cap of $4,000 – kicks in after eligible workers have had to take 14 or more days off work due to coronavirus-related reasons.
An “emergency leave day” is defined as a day in which an individual is unable to work due to one of four qualifying reasons: the person is currently diagnosed with COVID-19; quarantined at the instruction of a healthcare provider, employer or government official to prevent spread of the virus; caring for another person diagnosed with or under quarantine related to COVID-19; or they’re caring for a child due to closure of a school, childcare facility, or other care program.
“For the next few weeks, new cases of Covid-19 are expected to increase. But at some point, the infection rate will peak and decline,” McClintock said. “As it does, factories will reopen, employees will get back to work and life will return to normal. Once the public health crisis is passed, the House bill threatens to postpone the economic recovery by guaranteeing employees up to three months of paid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act.”
While the paid leave is meant to help individuals self-quarantine, recover or care for affected family members, “it opens the door for anyone who wants to game the system,” according to McClintock. “The costs – which could run into hundreds of billions of dollars – are to be fronted by businesses and ultimately borne by taxpayers, leaving a massive debt to repay. The more employees who claim extended leaves, the more productivity losses the business will suffer, potentially leaving some employees no jobs to return to.”
As an alternative, McClintock suggested that idled employees facing economic woes due to the virus should be allowed to “forego payroll taxes this year in exchange for a slightly delayed retirement.”
Democratic challenger Brynne Kennedy was quick to criticize McClintock’s vote.
“Tom McClintock voted to put communities at risk, to undermine our public health system, and to shortchange workers and businesses across our district – and our country,” said Kennedy in a March 14 press release. “His vote was an attack on common sense and common decency.”
Kennedy added that California’s first COVID-19 fatality was recorded in District 4. That was an elderly resident of Placer County.
“We have a large population of senior citizens and the medically vulnerable,” Kennedy said of the district. “Our schools are being closed, businesses hurt, and workers are facing an uncertain future, the possibility of lost paychecks and food insecurity. Our local hospitals have coronavirus patients, but they have shrinking supplies of protective equipment and our community’s most vulnerable populations don’t have access to tests.”
The Senate has yet to schedule a vote to pass the legislation.