Last year at this time the world was in the midst of falling apart.
I remember I was watching an NBA basketball game on ESPN when they suddenly announced that the game was cancelled. Soon, the NCAA conference tournaments were shutting down, and then we found out that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson had COVID.
I had no idea where we were headed.
And while government leaders did not give us much reason to have faith that they knew how to lead us out of the haze, they at least seemed to get one thing right: they quickly passed the FFCRA which pumped much-needed liquidity into the arm of the economy and, essentially, kept our economy humming in its hobbled state until we could start pumping millions of vaccines into the arms of Americans this February and March.
So we are starting to come out of it.
But, of course, work still needs to be done, and lots of folks are still struggling with sickness, grief, and financial despair.
It was really important that Democrats in Congress were able to get their act together again past week and pass the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. There is a lot of relief in the Act.
The Act extends the paid leave provisions that were put into the first FFCRA for all federal employees. That includes postal workers and folks employed in other federal agencies in Connecticut like law enforcement, Social Security Administration, and the Department of Labor.
Full-time federal workers will get up to 15 more weeks of paid leave to recover from COVID illness, to quarantine or care for a sick family member, to care for a child attending school virtually, or to get vaccinated and recover from any sickness associated with the vaccination. That is some good stuff.
Unfortunately, you have to be a federal worker to access the benefits. Regular Joes and Jills working regular jobs for regular employers don’t get to taste these benefits – not without a little cooperation from employers that is.
While the benefits for federal workers are mandatory, they are not for the rest of the working class.
For regular folks, employers are given the option of offering additional COVID-related leave to employees. If employers take the option, paid leave for employees under the FFCRA will be extended through September 30 of this year. The incentive for employers is that each will receive a tax credit of one hundred percent for up to ten days of paid sick leave capped at $200 per day.
In addition, employers can get the same tax credit for up to twelve weeks of additional emergency paid family leave for each employee.
The new Act has expanded the reasons an employee can take the leave. They include: if the employee is waiting for COVID-19 test results, the employee is obtaining a vaccine, or the employee is recovering from illness or injury related to the vaccination. Paid family leave can be taken for the following additional reasons: employee is subject to a quarantine order, has been advised by a health professional to quarantine, is experiencing COVID symptoms, is caring for someone subject to a COVID quarantine, or is caring for a child whose school or daycare is closed due to COVID.
The policy behind the Act is clear. The government wants to encourage folks to get vaccinated and avoid spreading the virus in the workplace. An important way of doing that is incentivizing employers and employees to ease the burden of missing income from work.