Robbins: Understanding the Families First Coronavirus Response Act |

Robbins: Understanding the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

In the 1950s and 60s, the closest thing we had to a fitness celebrity was Jack LaLanne. Known as the Godfather of Fitness, and donning his trademark fitness jumpsuit, LaLanne leaped through the new medium of television and enthused Americans to get off the couch and follow him through his minimalist routines to get and stay fit.

What’s old is new again.

As we hunker down in this war against the COVID-19 virus, innovators, entrepreneurs, the creative and the desperate are offering all manner of fitness and other remote routines and services that we not-so-long-ago used to enjoy along with the communion of our friends and neighbors.

It is an isolated time — both literally and figuratively — in the United States and in much of the rest of the world. But, patience; this too shall pass.

Although silver linings to the dark clouds of illness, fear, mass layoffs and other dislocations may be hard to find, at least one bright spot is that Congress has, for the first time in too long, relearned how to work together.  The results of Congress’ labors have been relief acts that are, collectively, meant to assuage the pain, calm the soul and markets, and provide for at least a modicum of relief to all-too-many families in distress.

One of the first relief measures to blossom was the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

Signed into law on March 18, 2020, the act responds to the coronavirus outbreak by providing paid sick leave, free coronavirus testing, expanded food assistance and unemployment benefits, and will require employers to provide additional protections for health care workers.

Gestated in the House, the act and provides for emergency supplemental appropriations for the fiscal year ending on September 30, 2020. It provides similar consideration to the Department of Agriculture for nutrition and food assistance programs, including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children; The Emergency Food Assistance Program; and nutrition assistance grants for U.S. territories.

The act also provides fiscal year appropriations to the Department of Health and Human Services for nutrition programs that assist the elderly.

The supplemental appropriations provided by the act are designated as emergency spending, which is exempt from discretionary spending limits.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act modifies USDA food assistance and nutrition programs to allow certain waivers to requirements for the school meal programs; to suspend the work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program); and to allow states to request waivers to provide certain emergency SNAP benefits.

In addition, the act requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue an emergency temporary standard that requires certain employers to develop and implement a comprehensive infectious disease exposure control plan to protect health care workers.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act also includes provisions that establish a federal emergency paid leave benefits program to provide payments to employees taking unpaid leave due to the coronavirus outbreak; that expand unemployment benefits and provide grants to states for processing and paying claims; requires employers to provide paid sick leave to employees; establishes requirements for providing coronavirus diagnostic testing at no cost to consumers; treats personal respiratory protective devices as covered countermeasures that are eligible for certain liability protections, and temporarily increases the Medicaid federal medical assistance percentage.

More specifically, the act provides funds for testing for the uninsured, veterans, Medicaid recipients and patients of the military and Native American health systems. Further, it requires private health insurers to provide free testing, including the cost of an emergency room or clinic visit to get tested.

Employers with fewer than 500 employees would be required to provide two weeks of paid sick leave for people who become infected with the virus or who must care for someone else. This will extend to people who are quarantined or whose place of work or children’s school is closed due to coronavirus. It would also provide a tax credit for businesses and the self-employed to cover sick leave.

In addition to the paid sick leave provisions, the act proposes to give government employees and employees of companies with fewer than 500 persons the right to take up to three months leave from their jobs if they have to quarantine themselves or care for a family member who is quarantined or for a child whose school has been closed.

But wait, there’s more …

There is provided $1 billion in grant funding for states to expand unemployment benefits for people who have lost (or lose) their jobs due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The food aid provisions include providing $1.15 billion in funding for food banks and to expand food aid for certain programs.

In short, the act:

  • Guarantees sick leave for workers and their families affected by the coronavirus.
  • Bolsters food aid for needy families and seniors.
  • Injects funds into state unemployment coffers.
  • Guarantees free testing for people suspected of being infected.

Passing at the age of 96, the Godfather of Fitness, lived a long, extraordinary, fruitful, and healthy life. 

So may we all.

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