On hazard pay for essential workers
The three most asked questions go like this:
- Will hazard pay be provided to low-income essential workers on the front lines?
- What is meant by essential workers, and which ones could end up getting hazard pay?
- How will America do more than thank essential workers? Or will they not do anything more at all?
This is what we now know.
The House included hazard pay for essential workers in the bill, and it passed. The $3 trillion stimulus package specifically sets aside $200 billion for essential workers in the form of hazard pay for essential workers (and yes, this includes low-income workers on the frontlines). This hazard pay money is being called the Heroes Fund. This fact sheet describes that $200 billion will be used to “ensure that essential workers who have risked their lives working during the pandemic receive hazard pay.”
Well who are the essential workers?
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) defines essential workers as those employees who “conduct a range of operations and services that are typically essential to continued critical infrastructure viability, including staffing operations centers, maintaining and repairing critical infrastructure, operating call centers, working construction, and performing operational functions, among others. It also includes workers who support crucial supply chains and enable functions for critical infrastructure. The industries they support represent, but are not limited to, medical and healthcare, telecommunications, information technology systems, defense, food and agriculture, transportation and logistics, energy, water and wastewater, law enforcement, and public works.”
DHS provides this essential worker advisory memo as well as these different categories of essential workers.
But here’s my take on essential workers.
It is absolutely critical that Congress and state and local governments prioritize lower-income essential workers who have public-facing roles on the frontlines of this pandemic. They are most in need and most at risk. The point needs to be made that although $200 billion is indeed a lot of money; it is not enough to give a decent hazard pay bonus to all the 17 different categories of essential workers that DHS identifies. If the $200 billion in hazard pay becomes law, decisions must be made about who gets priority. My recommendation is that America shows thanks and appreciation by doing all it can to get hazard pay to the following essential workers. This list is not all-inclusive by any means, but it includes many who are often commonly discussed.
- grocery clerks and retail workers who support getting food, beverage and other critical products to humans and animals; restaurant workers, food manufacturers and suppliers
- maintenance workers, and janitors, housekeepers, sanitarians; sanitation and pest control workers who support food manufacturing processes, etc.
- mortuary professionals and those who handle, recover or otherwise deal with the dead; funeral, cremation, burial, cemetery workers, etc.
- police officers, firefighters, emergency medical services (EMS), and other security and safety personnel with higher-levels of public interaction
- social workers and others who must be on the frontlines to work with abused and neglected individuals as well as teachers who must interact with students in a front-facing role (those who must hold in-person classes)
- agriculture, seafood and meat harvesters, producers, etc.; farmers and other corresponding roles such as rancher
- postal workers and other transportation and delivery workers who support agriculture or deliver essential goods and products
- childcare workers, cafeteria workers and others who must necessarily support the ability of other essential workers to be able to work.
- Other essential workers who are mostly public-facing on the frontlines.
Does it even matter that the House passed the bill if the Senate is against it?
Yes it matters, and this is why.
While a bill can only become law after both chambers of Congress pass it and the president then signs it, it’s important to remember that nothing happens without a first step. Yesterday’s bill passage was that first step, and Speaker Pelosi communicated that The Heroes Act outlines the House’s priorities for a fourth-phase stimulus package. She indicated that it would be used to set the baseline for beginning negotiations with the Senate and the White House.
It’s the economy, stupid.
James Carville’s old adage, “It’s the economy, stupid” still fits today, and it will certainly lead the way on any future stimulus checks or hazard pay decisions.
Even a position like “it’s dead on arrival” can be changed. This is the current position of Senate Republicans, but the economy will drive further action or inaction by the Senate. Right now, the economy continues to struggle badly. More than 36 million new jobless claims have been filed in eight weeks, and we are in a recession that is arguably headed to a depression. The most recent unemployment rate was reported as 14.7%, but many experts acknowledge that unemployment is really around 25%. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin admitted on Fox News Sunday that “real” unemployment is much higher than 14.7% before agreeing that it’s probably really 25% and that things would get worse before getting better.
I recommend that rather than listen to the bluster and partisan tones of Democrats and Republicans in Congress just pay attention to the economy. Pay attention to unemployment. Pay attention to job losses and notice whether or not those jobs are expected to come back. Listen closely to what employers (large and small) are saying. Hone in on corporate bankruptcies and assess the impact on hiring. These factors as well as others will give you more insight into what Congress might do than anything any members say.
And now that the House has passed another stimulus package, by paying attention the economy, you can better gauge whether or not the Senate will ultimately become more agreeable to negotiating with the House about taking action and passing more stimulus checks, hazard pay for essential workers and all the rest. To learn more about The Heroes Act, check out this brief fact sheet. To read the full Heroes Act bill, go here.