Biden Unveils Pandemic Relief Plan

January 15, 2021

President-elect Biden’s response plan, revealed Thursday night, will significantly impact employers if it is enacted.  The package includes an extension of the expired paid COVID leave mandate (expanded to include all employers), employer subsidies for COBRA coverage, and funds to set up large vaccination sites across the U.S., aid states in their vaccination efforts, increase testing capability, and assist schools in reopening. 

In contrast to the Trump administration’s response, which relied heavily on states, Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan significantly increases the federal role, including:

  • Reinstating through September the paid sick and family leave benefit mandate that expired in December, while expanding coverage to all employers of 500 or more. 

  • COBRA subsidies for employers, increasing ACA premium subsidies, and ensuring COVID-19 vaccinations are free for all regardless of immigration status.
  • Mandating a $15 minimum wage, and providing an additional $400 per week in unemployment insurance benefits through September.
  • Creation of a national vaccine program with $20 billion in aid to state and local governments for vaccination venues and mobile vaccination sites.  The plan specifically addresses the need to increase access for rural and low-income communities. 
  • Increasing testing capacity with $50 billion for developing tests and lab analyses as well as increasing the availability of rapid tests.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration released new guidelines to speed up vaccine administration.  The initial vaccine plans put forth by the administration and state governments focused on putting health care workers and others at high-risk at the front of the line.  However, strict vaccination guidelines have forced medical providers to discard unused vaccine doses when they are unable to find individuals that meet criteria. The new guidelines recommend:

  • States open up vaccinations to anyone older than 65 and to high-risk adults of any age,

  • Expanding the type of venues where people can get vaccinated, and

  • Using all available doses now instead of saving doses for individuals’ second shot.  

OSHA COVID Workplace Safety Standard:  The legislation directs the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to quickly issue an emergency safety standard and substantially increase enforcement, which is expected.  It is unclear if the standard will include a requirement for employers to maintain the pay and benefits of employees who are excluded from the workplace by COVID-19 but are able to work, like in the California standard. 

Vaccine webinar on 1/26/21 at 11:00 AM EST:  Please join us to discuss the practical implications and challenges employers should consider when developing and implementing their vaccine strategies for 2021.  The call will feature CVS Health Executive Vice President and CHRO Lisa Bisaccia; Thomas Beck, HCA Vice President, Labor & Employee Relations; and United Airlines Executive Vice President Human Resources and Labor Relations Kate Gebo.  They will discuss the lessons they have learned from distributing the vaccine to their employees and provide a global employer perspective on vaccine policy in different countries.  Click here to register for the call.