Senate Dems call for 'hazard pay' fund in 4th round of coronavirus spending

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Senate Democrats on Tuesday unveiled plans to create a giant new fund to boost the pay of health care staff, first responders and essential workers -- and made clear they'll demand their hazard pay proposal in any fourth round of coronavirus spending.

"Remember, not all heroes wear capes," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters in announcing the plan. "Some wear masks, some wear scrubs.

"These Americans are the true heroes of this pandemic. And we need to make sure they're taken care of. They are there for us. We must be there for them."

The hazard pay plan comes as Senate Republicans want Democratic help to pass more help to small businesses. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday just days after the latest $2.2 trillion stimulus plan, known as the CARES Act, was passed that it's already clear the small business Paycheck Protection Program needs more funding.

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The program gives loans to small businesses that can be converted to grants if employees are retained.

"But it is quickly becoming clear that Congress will need to provide more funding or this crucial program may run dry," McConnell said. "That cannot happen. Nearly 10 million Americans filed for unemployment in just the last two weeks. This is already a record-shattering tragedy and every day counts."

McConnell wants bipartisan action to supply more funding as early as Thursday. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said Congress needs to approve at least $200 billion to $250 billion more in funds for small businesses.

But Schumer signaled Democrats would like to get the hazard pay bill in exchange in any fourth round of funding. He also said funding for states to expand mail-in voting is a top priority, too.

"We believe that a heroes fund should be part of the next phase of the Congressional response to COVID-19," Schumer said. "No proposal will be complete without addressing the needs of our essential workers, by giving them hazard pay -- a pandemic premium payment."

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Under the plan pitched by Senate Democrats, the federal government would set up a "Heroes Fund" to pay frontline workers bonus pay up to $25,000 through the end of 2020, or about an additional $13 per hour.

The types of employees eligible would be very broad and extend beyond medical professionals, police and paramedics, to include workers in essential industries, such as grocery store workers, truck drivers, drug store staff, postal workers, pharmacists and more.

"Social distancing is not an option," Schumer said. "They are in the line of fire, day in and day out, to save others. In many cases that means longer shifts in fewer numbers, and an even more dangerous environment than normal."

Schumer unveiled the plan with fellow Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington, Gary Peters of Michigan, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Tom Udall of New Mexico.

The plan also calls for $15,000 recruitment incentive pay for home and health care workers and first responders to counter the staffing shortage. The federal government payment would be awarded as a signing bonus to those workers to take on the essential work.

The federal government would fully fund the payments to the qualifying private and public sector and tribal employees under the plan, which has an undetermined price tag.

There is GOP support for bonus pay for frontline workers, but under a different approach.

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Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., introduced in the House the Helping Emergency Responders Overcome Emergency Situations (HEROES) Act of 2020 on Friday that would provide a four-month federal income tax holiday for frontline workers in counties with at least one positive COVID-19 patient.

The legislation is modeled after the federal tax holiday provided to members of the military deployed to combat zones and would extend first responders and healthcare workers a similar financial benefit while serving in the battle against the pandemic.

Huizenga said his legislation would have the same effect as Schumer's hazard pay -- getting more money into the pockets of deserving workers -- but would do so without the added bureaucracy.

Health care workers have been under immense stress during the pandemic, caring for the sick without proper personal protective gear or supplies and putting their health at grave risk. Despite the added anxiety of the pandemic and grappling with isolation from families, doctors have even had to take pay cuts.

"These are really the people that are on the front lines," Huizenga told Fox News last week. "They're in a combat zone."