Sen. Ron Johnson’s Amendment Would Salvage the Second COVID-19 Response Bill

An amendment being offered in the Senate to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, H.R. 6201, would dramatically improve the emergency legislation that seeks to help Americans cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. As passed by the House, however, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act may hurt the very workers it attempts to help.

An amendment introduced by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) would strike the burdensome new government mandate on employers, who are already dealing with disruption and uncertainty because of the virus. The amendment is co-sponsored by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), and Mike Braun (R-Ind.).

The Johnson amendment would simply strike divisions C, E, and G from the House-passed text of H.R. 6201. These provisions of H.R. 6201 include the new mandate on businesses with fewer than 500 employees to provide paid family and medical leave (Division C), paid sick leave (Division E), and tax credits for businesses that are impacted by this new private-sector mandate (Division G).

Although the technical corrections in H.Res. 904 did limit the reach of these new mandates by providing the Department of Labor with the authority to issue regulations to exempt businesses with fewer than 50 employees from the burdensome mandates and paring down on the scope of paid family and medical leave, the paid sick leave provision of Division E is still far-reaching, applying to any one of six reasons to qualify, including caring for an individual who has been isolated, self-quarantined, or caring for a child whose school or childcare provider has been closed. The paid family and medical leave and sick leave provisions expire on December 31, 2020.

Not only is the cost of these provisions unknown, but they are also likely to have an adverse impact on businesses already struggling to cope with disruption and uncertainty created by COVID-19. Although H.R. 6201 provides refundable tax credits, such relief from this burdensome mandate may not come quickly enough for businesses operating on thin profit margins or at a loss. The devastating result of this reality would be businesses laying off some of their workers entirely, or worse, businesses being forced to completely close their doors, meaning unemployment for broad swaths of workers.

Again, the workers who would be harmed are those that H.R. 6201 purports to protect with these mandates. Instead of mandates, liquidity is the most important tool that can be provided right now. These provisions are counterproductive and work against that goal.

As of now, FreedomWorks opposes H.R. 6201 and will include the vote on our 2020 Congressional Scorecard. FreedomWorks supports this amendment and will include the vote on our 2020 Congressional Scorecard. If the Johnson amendment is adopted, we will withdraw our key vote against H.R. 6201.