Lest you give Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell credit for having any shred of morality for allowing a COVID-19 relief bill to finally pass after eight months of stonewalling any efforts by the House and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to help, don’t bother. Frustrated in his attempt to give businesses blanket immunity from legal liability for endangering their workers, McConnell found another way to get it done.
The CARES Act passed in March required employers to provide two weeks of paid sick leave to workers who were infected with the coronavirus. McConnell blocked lawmakers from extending that requirement in this package. Those two weeks of paid leave were required for sick employees, for employees who needed to care for a quarantining relative, and there was an additional 10-week paid leave requirement for workers with children whose schools or day cares closed for pandemic-related reason. It’s gone now with McConnell’s assistance, Republican and Democratic congressional aides confirmed to BuzzFeed News. But what did get extended was a tax credit to business, fully subsidizing the cost of paying out sick leave through next March. So businesses, if they feel like it, can extend the leave and be reimbursed. What this means is that people who are sick are going to keep going to work because they have to. They are going to infect their coworkers and their customers, because it’s that or have no income.
The original provision wasn’t perfect, exempting big businesses with more than 500 employees straight out and allowing small business with fewer than 50 employees to apply for exemptions. And two weeks of paid leave in a pandemic is wildly inadequate, far less than any other advanced nation has done—most of the others mandate paid sick leave all the time. Nevertheless, a study by Health Affairs found it worked to slow the spread of COVID-19. It also cost far less than projected, with just $1.3 billion claimed in tax credits compared to the projections that it would cost $105 billion. So doing the right thing by workers was actually helping and businesses weren’t overburdened. There was absolutely no reason for McConnell to do this other than sheer cruelty to working people.