House Stimulus Package Sets Aside $200 Billion for Front-Line Worker Hazard Pay

On Tuesday, House Democrats unveiled the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, the latest COVID-19 stimulus bill. Of note for home-based care providers hoping to keep their front-line staff, the proposed relief package includes a $200 billion fund for essential worker hazard pay. 

Increasingly, the coronavirus has placed home-based care workers on the front lines, caring for a mix of COVID-positive patients and seniors practicing social distancing. As these front-line jobs have become more challenging, many advocates have begun to call for additional compensation for performing duties that are possibly dangerous to workers. 

“I would love to see something like government-supplemented hazard pay for health care workers dealing with COVID-19,” Interim HealthCare Inc. CEO Jennifer Sheets previously told Home Health Care News. “We need to incentivize people to be on the front line, especially in a pool that’s already prone to high turnover.”

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At an estimated $3 trillion in total, the newly proposed stimulus bill would be the largest relief package in history.

Broadly, the bill faces a steep climb in terms of winning over Republicans, who have argued more time is needed to evaluate the relief measures that have already been passed. Still, it represents a crucial next step in responding to the COVID-19 emergency at the federal level, Robert Espinoza, vice president of policy at PHI, told HHCN.

“This bill is especially important because it provides hazard pay … and a whole range of supports that home care workers need, in general, but especially at this frightening moment,” he said. “Many states are reporting that they don’t have enough funds, at this moment, to adequately fund home care agencies and workers.”

Overall, the stimulus bill would provide nearly $1 trillion for state and local governments.

New York-based PHI is a direct-care workforce advocacy organization.

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Washington, D.C.-based LeadingAge, a national trade association for a variety of senior care organizations, likewise described the House bill as a potentially helpful tool for in-home care stakeholders.

“The appropriately-named HEROES Fund provides appreciation pay for all of these essential front-line workers who are so often under-recognized,” Aaron Tripp, vice president of reimbursement and financing policy at LeadingAge, told HHCN. “Providing care in the home limits the number of people involved in delivering needed services, an important consideration during this pandemic.” 

In addition to hazard pay, the stimulus package also includes a new employee retention tax credit, provides $10 billion for COVID-19 emergency grants, and mandates that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) must issue standards that require workplaces to create infection-control plans.  

Prior to the announcement of hazard pay under the HEROES Act, some home care providers have taken matters into their own hands, coming up with incentives for caregivers working in the field.

Companies such as CareFinders Total Care, Interim HealthCare and Concordia Lutheran Ministries have implemented similar appreciation pay for their workers, while Preferred Care Home Health Services provided its caregivers with food and other essentials.

In the weeks after the coronavirus outbreak started to surface in full, Congress passed a number of relief packages, including the CARES Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

Additionally, some providers have utilized the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a loan program for small businesses made available through the CARES Act, to fund hazard pay for caregivers.

If the HEROES Act passes, the availability of hazard pay for caregivers would have a long-term impact on the home care industry workforce, according to Espinoza.

“We are in a moment of a growing workforce shortage,” Espinoza said. “COVID-19 has exacerbated that shortage. Measures like hazard pay and other forms of compensation strengthen the workforce and pipeline of new workers coming into the home care sector.”

The U.S. House of Representatives will reportedly convene to vote on the proposed legislation on Friday.

Previous statements made by some Republican leaders suggest there could be at least some support within the party for a bill that features hazard pay. For example, Mitt Romney — a former Massachusetts governor with a vast business background — recently hinted that the concept of hazard pay was gaining traction among Republicans, according to the Washington Post.

“It strikes me that we’re open to considering a wide array of opportunities to help people that are serving the public,” Romney told Washington Post reporters. “And a number of individuals have expressed an openness to considering different ideas.”

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