Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other Democrats are proposing to give doctors, nurses and other essential workers, such as grocery store clerks, up to $25,000 in hazard pay as part of the phase four coronavirus relief bill.
The bonus pay, which would amount to a $13-per-hour raise, would also go to truck drivers and janitors, who Democrats say are also essential to keeping the health care system and economy running during the crisis.
It would stretch from the start of the public health emergency to the end of the year.
“As the COVID pandemic has reached alarming new levels, our health care system is strained to the max, our economy is strained to the max. Doctors and nurses, medical personnel of all types are putting their lives on the line every single day to fight this disease and save others,” Schumer said on a conference call introducing the proposal.
“And so are people not in the medical profession but in essential services: grocery store workers, truck drivers, drug store workers and pharmacists,” Schumer said. “For these Americans, working from home is not an option. Social distancing is not an option.”
“We’re calling it a ‘Heroes Fund’ because that’s who it’s for, our heroes,” he added.
The Democratic leader clarified the hazard pay would apply retroactively “to those already working on the front lines.”
The benefit would be capped at $25,000 for workers earning less than $200,000 per year and at $5,000 for those earning more than $200,000.
The Heroes Fund would provide funding directly to eligible employers so they could then distribute the premium payments.
Employers would be required to track payments and return unspent funds to the federal government.
Workers for entities that contract directly with state, local and tribal governments and deemed essential would also be eligible for hazard benefits.
The proposal would provide benefits to the families of essential workers who have died as a result of COVID-19.
Schumer talked about one New York doctor who has to get changed in his garage after each workday, put his clothes in a trash bag to be disinfected and take a shower before saying hello to his family.
Democrats are also proposing an essential worker recruitment incentive payment of $15,000 to attract and keep doctors, nurses and other medical professionals, many of whom have had to work long hours in tough conditions, on the job.
“We need to retain and recruit the workforce needed for the long months to come,” Schumer said.
The lawmakers are pushing for the proposal to be included in the phase four coronavirus relief bill Congress will negotiate after returning to work the week of April 20.