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Biden Virus Plan Calls for More Jobless Aid, Worker Safety Rule

Jan. 14, 2021, 10:57 PM

A $1.9 trillion proposal unveiled today by President-elect Joe Biden calls for extending enhanced jobless benefits and establishing workplace safety standards specific to Covid-19.

The proposal, which Biden’s transition team described in a summary document as “ambitious, but achievable,” is aimed at stimulating the economy and providing relief to individuals and businesses that are struggling through a surging Covid-19 pandemic. Biden unveiled the proposal six days before he’s set to be inaugurated as president. The summary indicated the $1.9 trillion proposal would be the first part of a two-step plan.

The president-elect recently indicated he would prefer to pursue a Covid-19 relief package that could win bipartisan support rather than use the budget reconciliation process in the Senate to pass policies with only a narrow Democratic majority. His proposal, however, includes items such as a $15 minimum wage that have consistently met opposition from Senate Republicans in the past.

His team’s summary offered the broad strokes of Biden’s wide-ranging proposal. The key workforce-related items include:

  • Asking Congress to give OSHA authority to issue a Covid-19 protection standard that covers a broad set of workers, including “frontline” state and local government employees who aren’t traditionally protected by OSHA regulations. The proposal also calls for funding for OSHA enforcement.

  • Extending enhanced unemployment benefits through September 2021 and increasing the extra federal benefit to $400 per week, up from the current level of $300 a week that’s due to expire in mid-March. The proposal includes additional weeks of coverage for unemployed people who have exhausted their maximum benefits under traditional unemployment insurance, continuing benefits for self-employed people and independent contractors through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, and fully pay for states’ short-time compensation—or work share—programs as well as their additional weeks of benefits.

  • Reviving and expanding the emergency paid leave mandate that Congress first passed last March and allowed to expire at the end of December. Biden’s expanded version would mandate paid sick plus paid family and medical leave for reasons related to Covid-19 for all employers—eliminating the exemptions in last year’s mandate for employers with more than 500 employees or fewer than 50, as well as the exemption for health-care workers. The proposal also would increase benefits to a maximum of 14 weeks and up to $1,400 per week, plus provide a refundable tax credit for 100% of the cost to employers with fewer than 500 employees.

  • Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and eliminating the lower minimum wage level for tipped workers such as restaurant servers and bartenders.

  • Calling for companies to provide hazard pay, including back pay, for essential workers such as grocery and retail workers.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Marr in Atlanta at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at; Jay-Anne B. Casuga at

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