Senate Democrats Propose Hazard Pay for Essential Workers

Ambulances line the street outside Elmhurst Hospital Center in the Queens borough of New York on Saturday. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Senate Democrats rolled out a new plan Tuesday to hike up pay for health care workers and other essential employees on the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak. 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on a call with reporters that the proposal to work a “Heroes Fund” into the fourth phase of the congressional response to the pandemic would support not only health care workers but also grocery store clerks, truck drivers, transit operators and other essential workers. 

“We are asking these workers to take on great risk. They should be compensated for it,” the New York Democrat said. 

The Democrat proposal provides a raise of up to $25,000 from the start of the public health emergency to the end of year, equivalent to around $13 an hour, to all essential workers, not just those in the medical field. 

“This is one of our very highest priorities in Covid-4,” Schumer said when asked if his caucus plans to hold up phase four of the congressional response to the outbreak if Republicans refuse to incorporate the plan into forthcoming legislation.

Paid for by the federal government, the premium pay increase would apply to public and private sector workers across the country. It also includes a recruitment incentive of $15,000 to bring new or retired medical staff into the health care workforce, and benefits to the family of essential workers who have already died in the fight against the pandemic. 

Arguing the proposal should receive strong bipartisan support, Schumer stressed that essential workers risking their lives deserve more than just applause. 

“It warms my heart to open my window every 7 p.m. as all of New York City applauds our essential workers. You can hear it from one end of the city to the other,” he said. “But they also deserve to be remunerated for this.”

Top Senate Democrats on the call Tuesday with Schumer outlined how the pay increase would apply to federal employees like postal workers and border patrol officers, as well as to essential workers on the job on Native American reservations. 

Washington Senator Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said the country needs to recognize workers going above and beyond during the pandemic. 

“It’s absolutely not business as usual and they absolutely do not deserve to be treated like it is,” Murray said. 

Asked if Democrats plan to work the essential workers fund into the Paycheck Protection Program operated by the Small Business Administration, Schumer said senators will later determine exactly which agency is best suited to implement the premium pay increase plan. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., meanwhile on Tuesday warned that the small business paycheck program, rolled out last week as part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, is quickly running short on funds. 

Calling the program overwhelmingly popular, McConnell said he plans to work with Schumer and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to approve additional funding for the program by a unanimous consent or voice vote on Thursday, as senators remain off Capitol Hill to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. 

“Jobs are literally being saved as we speak,” McConnell said in a statement. “But it is quickly becoming clear that Congress will need to provide more funding or this crucial program may run dry.”

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