May 07, 2020
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Senate Democrats propose hazard pay for essential workers

Susan Walsh | AP
Susan Walsh | AP
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., arrives for a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, March 20, 2020, to work on an economic relief package regarding the coronavirus.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senate Democrats are proposing giving hazard pay of up to $25,000 each for workers including grocery store employees, transit workers and pharmacists who are risking their lives to stay on the job amid the coronavirus outbreak.

These people “are in the line of fire, day in and day out” to help others, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a conference call with reporters. “We are asking these workers to take on great risk. They should be compensated for it.”

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Democrats are also proposing a death benefit for essential workers who have lost their lives to the coronavirus, Schumer said.

Schumer and other Senate Democrats made clear the payments are a key priority for the next phase of federal spending to respond to the virus, but stopped short of saying they would withhold support if they don’t get it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has scaled back her plans for additional federal help by focusing mostly on replenishing the pot of money for loans to small businesses and direct payments to individuals.

President Donald Trump has said he’d support additional funding, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he’ll support more money for small business aid. But some congressional Republicans say they want to see the impact of the $2.2 trillion package that’s already been signed into law before moving on an expanded rescue plan. Adding more programs could complicate quick passage of additional legislation.

Schumer didn’t give a total cost for the proposals.

Also covered by the fund would be federal workers, including Veterans Administration nurses and doctors, postal workers delivering essentials, Border Patrol officers and Transportation Security Administration airport screeners, said Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee.

The so-called Pandemic Premium Pay of as much as $25,000 would be paid from the start of the crisis to the end of the year. In addition, the Democrats’ proposal would offer an essential worker recruitment incentive of up to $15,000 for more medical workers.

“We all know gratitude isn’t enough,” said Senator Patty Murray of Washington, a member of Democratic leadership and the top party member on the Health, Education and Labor Committee.

The $25,000 bonus would equate to a raise of about $13 an hour for recipients, Schumer said.

Other key demands, the Democrats said, are some form of student loan relief and language giving weight to more mail-in ballots in the 2020 elections.

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