Pa. legislator introduces hazard pay bill for LE, first responders

The Coronavirus Frontline Workers Fair Pay Act would provide retroactive and ongoing hazard pay


Jill Whalen
Standard-Speaker

HARRISBURG, Pa. — U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-8, Moosic, unveiled a proposal that would provide hazard pay to health care professionals, law enforcement officers and other essential workers.

If the Coronavirus Frontline Workers Fair Pay Act is approved, high-risk health care workers would receive a hazard pay increase of $18.50 per hour, and other essential workers in police and sheriff's departments, fire departments, and other first responders would receive an increase of $13 per hour.

“I introduced this hazard pay bill to see that some of the enormous amounts of federal dollars going out go to these people who are the heroes of the war we are fighting now,” Cartwright said Friday.

The act, which is co-sponsored by legislators from California, Ohio and Colorado, would cap hazard pay at $35,000 for health care workers and $25,000 for other essential workers. It would be retroactive to Jan. 31 and available through year’s end.

Cartwright explained the proposal is meant to compensate workers for the risks they are taking and for the public services they are providing during the COVID-19 pandemic and economic emergency.

Employers wouldn’t be responsible for footing the hazard pay.

“The plan is to establish a dedicated fund within the U.S. Treasury Department, which would handle the distribution of the hazard pay funds to the employers,” said Matt Slavoski, a Cartwright spokesman.

Slavoski said employers would submit a payroll projection to the Department of Treasury at the beginning of each month and receive a disbursement from the treasury to provide the hazard pay to their workers. At the end of each month, employers would submit the next month’s projections and proof that they distributed the funds they received.

Employers who fail to distribute the funds would violate the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

In a call to the Standard-Speaker, Cartwright called health care and other essential workers “heroes.”

“This is a situation where we have people on the front lines on this flight: first responders, health care workers, doctors, nurses, medical technologists, people whose job it is to be hands-on with known COVID-19 victims, people who don’t know for sure if their personal protective equipment is going to work, people who don’t know if they’re exposing their families when they go home at night and people who are dealing with enormous amounts of personal stress,” he said.

Cartwright believes there is an “inequality involved when you have those people doing that versus the people who are told you must stay home and we’re going to pay you for it.”

Cartwright said the amount of money going toward hazard pay would be determined by the Congressional Budget Office.

“Obviously, it’s going to be an awful lot of money,” he said. “But remember the dollar figures can be adjusted and the time frame can be adjusted, too. I felt it was important to get something down as a marker and start talking about this.”

If the bill gets support, it can be voted on within a few months, he said.

Cartwright introduced the bill Thursday during a video news conference with health care advocates and labor leaders.

“In this moment, it’s going to take an act like this to have the backs of workers who are thrust into the most challenging situations they’ve been in during their careers,” Matt Yarnell, President of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, said during the conference. “They need to be assured that if they get sick, they will have access to care. They need to be assured that they are paid a living wage, or, frankly, essential worker pay, in order to keep people in their jobs and make sure we have our arms around the people who are going to save us from this pandemic.”

Under the bill, essential workers earning less than $200,000 annually would have their hazard pay capped at $25,000, and those making more than that would have the hazard pay capped at $5,000.

Telework hours would not be covered.

The “high-risk health care worker” category includes physicians, surgeons, registered nurses, emergency medical technicians and paramedics; home health and personal care aids; nursing assistants, orderlies and psychiatric aides; physician assistants, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwifes, nurse practitioners, health care diagnosing and treating practitioners, clinical laboratory technologists and technicians, diagnostic related technologists and technicians, pharmacy technicians, psychiatric technicians, surgical technologists, licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses, surgical assistants and health care practitioners and technical workers.

As for “other” essential workers, Slavoski said different states have different standards about what is deemed essential. Under Cartwright’s bill, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency would make that call. The proposal, however, uses a CISA advisory list that was released April 17.

In addition to health care workers, it identifies essential personnel as those working in law enforcement, public safety and other first response agencies; food and agriculture; energy; water and wastewater; transportation and logistics; public works and infrastructure support services; communications and information technology; other community- or government-based operations and essential functions; critical manufacturing; hazardous materials; financial services; chemical; defense industrial base; commercial facilities; residential/shelter facilities and services and hygiene products and services.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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