On May 12, Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced the fourth COVID-19 relief bill (H.R. 6800). Often referred to as the HEROES Act (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act), the cost estimate for this bill is over $3 trillion.
NFDA has been working tirelessly with key members of Congress to ensure that funeral service professionals are included as essential workers and, therefore, eligible for hazard pay. Importantly, this House legislation includes funeral service as essential work. Key benefits to funeral service workers are:
- Section 170101 – Declares workers in mortuary, funeral, cremation, burial, cemetery and related services as essential.
- Section 170102 – Establishes pandemic premium pay for essential workers. This section provides that employers that apply for and receive grants will pay essential workers $13 per hour premium pay on top of their regular wages. Essential workers are eligible for up to $10,000 (“highly compensated” essential workers earning above $200,000, up to $5,000) for work performed from January 27, 2020, until 60 days after the last day of the COVID–19 Public Health Emergency.
- Section 170104 – Creates COVID–19 Heroes Fund grants to essential work employers for the purpose of providing premium pay to essential workers. Essential work employers are eligible for grants of $10,000 per essential worker ($5,000 for highly compensated essential workers) to cover the entire cost of premium pay, including employer payroll taxes for premium pay.
In summary, this legislation as proposed defines funeral service workers as essential; offers them $13/hour premium pay on top of their existing pay; and provides essential employers grants to cover these pay increases.
There is, however, work still to be done. Hill sources have indicated that the House bill is very partisan. The White House/Congressional Republicans did not have any input on it and a source says the bill includes a number of Democratic wish list items.
So, while the bill may pass the House on Friday, it is unlikely to be approved by the Senate. This means that if a fourth COVID-19 bill passes into law, it will look much different. The White House, House and Senate will have to work together to negotiate a bill.
Rest assured, NFDA will continue to work with Congressional leaders to ensure that funeral service remains in the “essential” category in the final bill sent to the President. We will keep you abreast of developments regarding this legislation and will let you know when grassroots action is necessary.
Update: May 17, 2020: The House passed the HEROES Act on May 15; however, the bill is still not likely to pass the Senate and President Trump has indicated he would reject the bill if it made its way to his desk.
It’s important to note that NFDA is not endorsing this bill. Our members have, however, asked that funeral service be recognized as “essential workers” in federal stimulus bills dealing with COVID-19. In fact, each of the previous stimulus bills has included funeral service as “essential workers.”
Also of note, the hazard pay is federal relief; it will be paid to businesses by the federal government as a grant.