Stimulus checks and extended unemployment benefits have understandably been the focus of Congress’s protracted negotiations over a second covid relief bill. But like any piece of legislation of its size—$900 billion and 5,593 pages—the bill includes tons of smaller measures and stipulations that can easily go unnoticed. In some cases it’s the absence of important measures that lawmakers try to let fly under the radar.
Here’s one such case: The legislation Congress sent to the White House for Trump to sign off on Monday evening omitted a mandate that employers provide paid sick leave workers who become ill with covid-19. According to BuzzFeed News, Mitch McConnell led the charge in blocking the extension of the rule, which had been put into effect in March, at the start of the pandemic.
Instead, the latest covid relief package extends a tax credit available to businesses who do offer paid sick leave. But in the absence of the stricter mandate, it’s up to individual employers to decide whether they want to provide it or not.
It’s hard not to feel that this legislation is a slap in the face to working people. The federal government is only providing half of the benefits of the original relief package—$300 extended unemployment instead of $600, $600 stimulus checks instead of $1,200 ones—and the original package was not enough to begin with. It was already a compromise, as incoming Congresswoman Cori Bush reminded Sunday evening.
Many people would rather that working Americans be grateful they got anything at all. But stimulus checks and augmented unemployment benefits will go toward making up rent payments or utilities bills people couldn’t pay for the last four months, and then they’ll be back to zero. People will continue to get sick, and without a paid sick leave mandate they risk falling deeper into a financial hole if they do.
McConnell doesn’t have to worry about getting sick, of course—he already got the vaccine.