Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Sen. Gary Peters proposes COVID-19 'Heroes Fund' to support frontline workers

April 9, 2020
<p>The Lansing Capitol building on Sept. 19, 2019. </p>

The Lansing Capitol building on Sept. 19, 2019.

Photo by Connor Desilets | The State News

Michigan Sen. Gary Peters has proposed the COVID-19 "Heroes Fund," calling for pay increases to essential and frontline workers.

The fund would provide up to a $25,000 pandemic premium pay increase for all essential frontline workers, equivalent to a raise of an additional $13 per hour from the declaration of the public health emergency through December 31, according to a press release.

A $15,000 recruitment incentive would also be available for health and home care workers and first responders to secure the workforce needed to fight the crisis, Peters said.

For high-income workers, earning over $200,000, a cap would be placed at a $5,000 bonus, Peters said.

The pay increase would benefit all essential employees, including hospital staff and health care employees, pharmaceutical employees, postal workers, government employees and grocery store workers, Peters said.

“Many of us can work from home, we can shelter in place and continue to pursue our livelihood, but we can’t do that if we can’t go to a grocery store and get food,” Peters said. “We still need food on the table, we still need to eat and the brave men and women who are there, working every day in our grocery stores, stocking shelves and in check-outs making sure that we get the food that we need are truly heroes. As well as folks all through the supply chain.”

Companies would be responsible for identifying who qualifies, then funds would be allocated to employers to add to employee paychecks, Peters said. According to the press release, the eligible employer would track these payments, provide payroll records demonstrating premium payments, and return any unspent funds to the agency. 

As of April 8, there have been three bills passed related to COVID-19. Most recently, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, act puts over $2 trillion of resources into the economy.

Peters said he hopes the “Heroes Fund” will be implemented as a part of a fourth COVID-19 package. Current discussions surrounding the fourth package include additional resources to hospitals, particularly ensuring adequate protection for rural hospitals.

“I think it is important for us to tell our front-line necessary workers that not only do we appreciate them, they should be compensated for taking additional risk for themselves as well and for their families.”

Moving forward, Peters said, we need to deal with both aspects of the crisis — the public health crisis and the economic fallout that comes with it.

Peters said it is critically important that those on the front line are protected, as well as the public by providing them with necessary personal protection equipment.

Serving as a ranking member on the Homeland Security and Government Committee, Peters said one of their responsibilities is overseeing the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, and making sure they have the resources to continue supporting health care workers during this time.

During this time, he said, it is crucial to make sure small businesses have the resources they need to stay in business.  

Part of the CARES act called for assistance to small businesses to receive 7-A loans, but Peters said doing this is something small business owners would likely be hesitant to do, considering uncertain revenue.

A paycheck protection provision in these loans says that if employees are kept on the payroll, the loan may be forgiven for the amount of the payroll. Additionally, it includes forgiveness provisions for mortgage, leasing and rent costs, running up to eight weeks.

“It is absolutely essential that we protect small businesses. They are the engine of growth in our economy,” Peters said.

Peters said economists are concerned a severe recession or depression may result from the impact of this crisis. The question, he said, is not whether we will have a recession, but rather how deep that recession will be and whether it will turn into a depression if it continues on too long.

“One thing we know from countries around the world, is that need to take aggressive actions up front. If you let the virus get ahead of you, it’s impossible to catch up because it expands at an exponential rate.”

Peters is currently working to gain bi-partisan support for the “Heroes Fund” to see its passing in an upcoming package.

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