News Releases

CARES Act includes $15 million in funding to help DOL respond to coronavirus crisis and enforce worker protection laws 

Murray, DeLauro urge Secretary of Labor to ensure this money is used to issue a temporary OSHA standard for coronavirus, implement new paid leave provisions, and help states implement unemployment benefits 

ICYMI: April 1 - Murray, DeLauro Urge DOL to Remove Loopholes for Employers from Paid Leave Guidance   

Murray, DeLauro to Scalia: “These workers deserve every protection our laws are intended to provide and your commitment to making sure they are available”

(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Ranking Member of Senate Appropriations Subcommittee responsible for funding the Department of Labor, and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee responsible for funding the Department of Labor, urged Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia to use the $15 million provided for the Department of Labor (DOL) in the CARES Act to protect and support workers during the coronavirus crisis. Workers across the country are facing health and safety risks as they continue to provide health care and transportation, stock grocery stores, and carry out other essential services. In a letter to Secretary Scalia, the lawmakers urged DOL to ensure that these workers can access the protections and benefits granted to them under law, and issue an emergency standard to protect workers from exposure to the coronavirus.  

The CARES Act includes a provision that requires DOL to submit a plan to the House and Senate appropriations committees on how the $15 million will be used. In the letter, the members urged DOL to issue an Emergency Temporary Infectious Disease Standard, fully implement new paid leave provisions, and help states implement new unemployment benefits.

“We write you today to request that you use the $15,000,000 provided in the CARES Act … to protect workers exposed to health and safety risks associated with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus as they deliver health care services, provide transportation services, and make available other essential services the public requires, and to implement new paid leave rights.  These workers deserve every protection our laws are intended to provide and your commitment to making sure they are available,” wrote the lawmakers.

In the letter, the lawmakers stressed that in order to fully protect workers, DOL must use the funds to:

  • Issue an Emergency Temporary Infectious Disease Standard. Clear, effective, comprehensive requirements from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the only way to guarantee that all workers receive protections from the coronavirus that will keep them safe.
  • Fully implement new paid leave provisions. The FFCRA included important new protections so workers can stay home if they are sick or need to care for a family member, without having to fear the loss of a job or a paycheck. These provisions must be implemented as Congress intended. DOL must also ensure that all eligible workers are aware of their new rights by conducting specific outreach. In many communities, especially low-income communities and communities of color, workers desperately need paid leave but may not know how to take advantage of the new provisions.
  • Help states implement new unemployment benefits. The CARES Act included new unemployment benefits to provide struggling families a necessary lifeline. DOL must provide clear and consistent information, technical assistance, guidance, and support to the states as they implement the new provisions.

“When you submit this plan, we strongly urge you to do the right thing for the nation’s workers and their families by including the funding necessary to carry out these priorities and help workers across the country access the benefits provided by the CARES Act,” wrote the lawmakers.

Both Senator Murray and Congresswoman DeLauro have already pushed the Department of Labor to protect workers during the coronavirus crisis. On April 1, the lawmakers urged Scalia to rescind guidance on the paid leave provision that created gratuitous loophole for employers.  The lawmakers have also introduced the PAID Leave Act with Senator Gillibrand, a comprehensive emergency paid sick days and paid family and medical leave bill that is fully funded by the federal government during this emergency, and continue to push for it to be a part of Congress’ continuing coronavirus response efforts.  

The full text of the letter is below and HERE.

April 8, 2020

The Honorable Eugene Scalia

Secretary

U.S. Department of Labor

200 Constitution Ave, NW

Washington, DC 20210

Dear Secretary Scalia:

We write you today to request that you use the $15,000,000 provided in the CARES Act for Departmental Management of the Department of Labor (DOL) to protect workers exposed to health and safety risks associated with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus as they deliver health care services, provide transportation services, and make available other essential services the public requires, and to implement new paid leave rights.  These workers deserve every protection our laws are intended to provide and your commitment to making sure they are available.

More than three months ago, the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency due to the outbreak of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.  The outbreak has only grown worse since that time.  As of April 7, 2020, the United States has 387,547 confirmed cases and 12,291 deaths resulting from this pandemic.[1]  The majority of states have issued stay-at-home orders which generally only allow travel for trips to the grocery store, for medical care or other essential services, and limit social interactions.[2]

That’s why Congress passed several pieces of legislation intended to address the growing health and safety risk of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus and support states, localities, families, and individuals facing this unprecedented challenge.  The most recent action was near-unanimous passage of the CARES Act, legislation that provided, among other investments, $15 million for your Department “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, including to enforce worker protection laws and regulations”. 

The Department is required to use these resources, and all available resources, to fully protect workers.  That should start with issuing an Emergency Temporary Infectious Disease Standard.  Unfortunately, we have more than ample evidence of the grave danger the 2019 Novel Coronavirus presents to workers.  Some states have reported that close to 20 percent of coronavirus cases are health care workers.[3]  Clear, effective, comprehensive requirements from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the only way to guarantee that all workers receive the protections from 2019 Novel Coronavirus that will keep them safe.   Fortunately, much work has been done over the past decade on an infectious disease rulemaking that can be used to issue the Emergency Temporary Infectious Disease Standard.

In the interim, to protect workers from coronavirus infection, OSHA should be fully enforcing all applicable standards and directives, including the Personal Protective Equipment standard (29 CFR 1910.132), the Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134), the General Duty Clause (Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970), and the Bloodborne Pathogens standard (29 CFR 1910.1030). Particular emphasis should be placed on workplaces where workers are deemed essential and also face a higher risk of infection, such as hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, slaughterhouses, poultry processing plants, and agricultural workplaces.

Workers also need the paid sick and family leave provisions of the recently-enacted Families First Coronavirus Response Act.  These are important new protections we provided to individuals so they can stay home if they are sick, need to care for a family member, or have other coronavirus-related needs, without having to fear the loss of a job or a paycheck.  However, individuals will only benefit from these new provisions if they are implemented as enacted in the legislation passed by Congress, and if they are aware of their new rights.  Research on state paid leave programs has shown that usage and awareness is low for workers in low-wage jobs and members of minority communities.[4]  Therefore, you must ensure that specific outreach is conducted to these communities and other individuals who are desperately relying on these provisions.

Additionally, Congress approved several new unemployment benefits for workers impacted by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. As weekly unemployment claims continue to rise, these benefits are a necessary lifeline for struggling individuals and families.  While the Employment and Training Administration has recently issued long awaited guidance on these benefits, it must continue to work with States to ensure that claimants are able to access those benefits, removing any barriers or challenges to participation.  In this effort, the Department must use the recently enacted appropriation for Departmental Management to oversee and coordinate activities related to these new provisions and to provide clear and consistent information, technical assistance, guidance, and support to all States during this time.

As you are aware, you are required to provide the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations with an operating plan for the use of the $15,000,000 appropriation for Departmental Management not later than 15 days prior to the transfer of the funds to eligible appropriations accounts.  When you submit this plan, we strongly urge you to do the right thing for the nation’s workers and their families by including the funding necessary to carry out these priorities and help workers across the country access the benefits provided by the CARES Act. 

We appreciate your attention to these issues and look forward to seeing the report.  If you have any questions regarding this letter, please contact Mark Laisch, Minority Staff for the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies and Philip Tizzani, Majority Staff for the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies.

Sincerely, 

Patty Murray

Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies

Committee on Appropriations

United States Senate 

Rosa L. DeLauro

Chair, Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies

Committee on Appropriations

United States House of Representatives

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[1] Tracking COVID cases in the US, CNN Health accessed on April 7, 2020 at 6:30pm EST at https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2020/health/coronavirus-us-maps-and-cases/

[2] “See Which States and Cities Have Told Residents to Stay at Home”, New York Times accessed on April 2, 2020 at https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-stay-at-home-order.html

[3] “Health care workers see wave of coronavirus coming in their ranks”, NBC News accessed on April 2, 2020 at https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/health-care-workers-see-wave-coronavirus-coming-their-ranks-n1174271

[4] “Passing Paid Leave Laws Is Just the Beginning: Lessons from the Field on Raising Awareness”, Center for Economic and Policy Research accessed at https://cepr.net/images/stories/reports/paid-leave-2019-02.pdf