Biden’s American Rescue Plan – Key Points for Employers
January 19, 2021
On January 14, 2021, President-Elect Biden announced his “American Rescue Plan (ARP),” the incoming administration’s proposed COVID-19 relief package. The Plan includes a national vaccination program, an additional $1,400 stimulus payment, economic support for impacted businesses, education support and a focus on reopening kindergarten through 8th grade schools, eviction and foreclosure relief, measures to address food insecurity, extended unemployment benefits, and perhaps of most interest to employers, a plan to revive and extend the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) paid leave requirements. Under Biden’s Plan, the FFCRA would include:
- An expansion of covered employers. The FFCRA would once again apply to employers with under 500 employees but would also require employees with 500 or more employees to provide leave and would remove any exemptions for employers with fewer than 50 employees.
- Removal of employee exemptions. The ARP would remove the healthcare worker and first responder exemptions, requiring employers to provide leave benefits to these groups of employees, something that was not required under the original FFCRA.
- Expand leave available to federal employees. Under the original FFCRA, federal employees were eligible for paid sick leave but most were not eligible for expanded FMLA leave. Biden’s ARP would change this, providing both types of leave to federal employees.
- Potentially expand amount of leave. Biden’s plan states that employees would be eligible for “over 14 weeks of paid sick and family and medical leave.” It is unclear how the 14 weeks would be apportioned between paid sick leave and paid, expanded FMLA leave requirements, but however it is apportioned, it would represent an increase in paid leave as compared to the original FFCRA.
- Change in maximum leave benefits. Biden’s plan would set the maximum weekly benefit amount at $1,400. This would be an increase in benefits under the expanded FMLA and for employees taking leave to care for another individual under the paid sick leave portion of the law. It could represent a reduction in benefit amounts for employees taking paid sick leave for themselves, since the original FFCRA applied a maximum leave benefit of $511 per day (for a total of $5,110 over the two-week period).
- Limit tax credits. Under Biden’s proposed plan, tax credits would be available to employers with fewer than 500 employees only.
- State and Local government reimbursement. Biden’s proposed plan would reimburse state and local governments for the cost of leave.
- Extend the leave through the third-quarter of 2021. Under the ARP, paid sick leave and expanded FMLA benefits would extend through September 30, 2021.
Also of interest to employers is Biden’s proposed extension to unemployment benefit programs, which would extend the benefit period for workers who have exhausted their regular unemployment benefits, extend benefits available to self-employed workers, and would include a $400 per week supplement to paid benefits.
Finally, for employers who are wondering when their employees may become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, Biden’s plan includes addressing shortages of the vaccine, setting up community vaccination sites, and increased testing and tracing. This provision also calls on Congress to authorize the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) to issue a COVID-19 protection standard that covers workers not typically covered by OSHA and to increase funding for OSHA enforcement.
While the American Rescue Plan is only proposed legislation at this point, it sends strong signals that employers will likely see some sort of COVID-19 required leave benefit reinstated. Shuttleworth & Ingersoll will continue to closely monitor this and other legislative activity. Please contact any of our employment attorneys if you need additional guidance regarding this update or COVID-19 in general.
Sara G. Sidwell is an Attorney with Shuttleworth & Ingersoll. Sara’s practice focuses on employment and labor law and is based out of the Coralville office. She has practiced employment law for over fifteen years, both in-house and in private practice, and has extensive experience counseling both large and small employers on all aspects of employment law. These areas include discrimination and harassment, disability management, workforce reductions or restructuring, employment contracts, wage and hour compliance, background checks and FCRA compliance, performance management, noncompetition agreements and claims, commission agreements and claims, safety issues, workers’ compensation, and whistleblower claims.