All About The Families First Coronavirus Response Act
In a speedy display of rare bipartisanship, Congress voted to get The Families First Coronavirus Response Act and President Trump signed it into law, passed on March 18. The law brings welcome relief to states in need of funds to pay unemployment insurance to claimants. It commits $1 billion to cover the costs of processing and paying UI as well as 100% federal funding for Extended Benefits.
Also referred to as H.R. 6201, the law details provisions for paid sick leave to workers diagnosed with COVID-19 or caring for family members who may have the disease. There are certain requirements, which states must meet to get the funding. There are also welcome measures that look into other complementary aspects of combating this global pandemic.
What Are The Unemployment-Related Provisions?
This section of the overall act has been called the Emergency Unemployment Insurance Stabilization and Access Act of 2020. The biggest breather comes from the provision of $1 billion as emergency grants to states for the processing and payment of unemployment insurance benefits.
There is also a $500 million additional fund for staffing, technology requirements, systems, and other administrative costs. To obtain this $500 million assistance, the states have to:
- Make it mandatory for employers to notify the laid-off employees about potential UI eligibility
- Provide two ways to apply for UI by phone, in person or online
- Keep applicants informed about the status of their application- whether or not its being processed and how to improve the success rate of processing
States which experience at least a 10% increase in unemployment may receive emergency grants worth $500 million. This is over the aforementioned provision. These states would be required to:
- temporarily ease eligibility requirements such as work search and waiting period so that more people can access UI
- increase employer UI taxes if they layoff too many workers
- Ease UI restrictions which are a part of federal law
The Families-First Coronavirus Response Act enables states to get access to interest-free advances to meet unemployment-related needs until Dec 31, 2020.
The law also anticipates that the Extended Benefits program will be needed with the unemployment rate likely to rise over 10%. Hence funding for Extended
Benefits will totally be federal whereas 50% of funding would come from states at other times.
States which offer work-sharing programs can get assistance from the Secretary of Labor. This enables workers to get reduced pay instead of layoff. Employers opting for this plan get some incentives and assistance.
What Should You Do To Get Unemployment Compensation?
You can read all about how to collect unemployment benefits if you got laid off due to the Coronavirus pandemic here.
Most states have waived the waiting period, work search requirements and allowed part-time workers and the self-employed to file for unemployment benefits. If eligible you will receive your Determination Letter.
The new law does not require claimants to do anything outside of the ordinary application process to claim unemployment insurance benefits.
It is best to file claims online as most states have a shortage of staff across unemployment offices due to the massive surge in UI applications. There will be delays if you try phone filing or in-person visits.
What Can A Worker Expect From The Families First Coronavirus Response Act?
- Governments and private businesses with fewer than 500 employees have to provide up to two weeks of paid sick leave at the regular wage rate if anyone contracts COVID-19
- Those employees staying away to care for a sick family member or a child out of school are entitled to the same but at two-thirds of the regular wage rate
- Sick workers also get an additional 10 weeks off at two-thirds of the regular wage rate
- Companies with fewer than 50 employees will be exempted from these rules if they risk going out of business due to closure
What Are The Other Helpful Provisions Of This Law?
The fight against the Coronavirus pandemic requires a multi-pronged approach. Hence the Families First Coronavirus Response Act addresses various other requirements.
- Health Insurance coverage at no cost to the customer for COVID-19 diagnostic testing under both private plans and Medicaid.
- States can extend Medicaid eligibility to cover uninsured populations.
- Medicaid will cover beneficiary cost-sharing for healthcare practitioner visits that order the test.
- Personal Respiratory Protective Devices will be covered as countermeasures against COVID-19
- Enhanced Medicaid funding
- National Disaster Medical System will be able to reimburse the cost of diagnostic testing for SARS-Cov19 of insured individuals with a grant of $1bn
Food and Nutrition clauses
- $250 million for the Senior Nutrition Program which will supply about 25 million additional home-delivered, pre-packaged meals to low-income seniors.
- The Emergency Food Assistance Program gets $300 million to buy nutritious food and $100 million to supply and distribute it.
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children gets $500 million so that laid-off low-income pregnant women and mothers and their children get food.
- Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) of food assistance to households with children who get meals in school and aren’t now due to COVID-19 shutdowns
- No work requirements for “food stamp” program
What Is the Path Forward for The United States?
The Families First Act is a welcome beginning but will need to be expanded to cover various groups who will be left to fend for themselves. As of now, employers with over 500 employees do not have to provide paid leave. This includes workers in banks, grocery chains, etc. who come into contact with hundreds of people daily.
The vast majority of people will be left without protection from the financial hit of getting laid-off. Many applicants do not qualify for unemployment benefits due to having inadequate hours or wages. Further easing of restrictions is necessary.
Many states had cut unemployment staff and benefits on the back of good economic growth over the past couple of years. Twenty-three states had inadequate unemployment trust funds, though the new act should address this.
The technological capabilities will need to be scaled up largely to deal with the massive surge in UI applications as well as other forms of assistance. With so many people having to say home, there is also a shortage of manpower to provide state essential services. States have plans to employ workers to meet this requirement.
The Coronavirus Response Act has addressed all the different war fronts along which this pandemic will have to be fought with allocations for disaster response, food, Medicaid and veteran care, etc. As the situation evolves the US will have to prepare itself to deal with whatever this new world order will dish out.
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