Today the Senate passed important legislation that aims directly at workers and employers recovering from the COVID pandemic and economic crisis.
As shots go into arms, and federal American Rescue Plan funds arrive in state coffers, our state legislature must pass legislation to ensure an equitable and just reopening and recovery.
The bill the Senate passed today, which has already been passed by the House, begins to grapple with the pandemic’s economic hardship facing workers and businesses.
Here are FOUR things to know:
#1 The bill establishes a state COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave fund, which employers will pay into and then be reimbursed if one of their employees is forced to miss work due to personal illness, care for a loved one, or any kind of reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine. This is protection that those in our workforce not afforded sick time by their employer have greatly needed for more than a year.
#2 This bill also assists people who have received unemployment benefits and have a household income of less than 200% of the federal poverty level by excluding over $10,000 in unemployment benefits from their taxable income.
#3 This bill also leans in to support our mostly small businesses which are majorly important to a just recovery. Even as their receipts plummeted, small businesses have faced unanticipated and additional costs during this pandemic as they invested in moving their operations online, or outdoors, or stayed in-person with plexiglass and sanitizer, or maybe tried all three. Businesses that received a federal PPP loan, which had to be spent on retaining their workforce, were slated to incur state taxes on any PPP funds they received as well as a crippling hike in their contribution to the state’s unemployment trust fund due to the unprecedented payments made from the unemployment trust fund this past year.
This bill addresses both of these concerns. It authorizes the state to bond or borrow to spread out the financial burden of recapitalizing our depleted unemployment system while also bringing state taxation of PPP funds in line with the federal tax treatment to prevent these businesses from having to pay a tax bill levied on their federal grant.
I heard from auto mechanics, breweries, chambers of commerce, an accounting firm writing on behalf of its small business clients and others that these costs were simply insurmountable. Losing more small businesses at the end of the pandemic does not beget a strong or equitable economic recovery which is why this bill provides timely and necessary support.
#4 This bill also moves Tax Day back to May 17 to align with a federal change.
And, like so many bills which come to the floor, this legislation was strengthened by the addition of several important amendments which:
- Creates a commission to examine the long-term solvency of the unemployment trust fund and issue a report by the end of 2021.
- Requires the Department of Revenue to conduct a campaign to raise awareness about the unemployment insurance tax relief program to ensure that people receive notification in multiple languages and through multiple mediums.
Over the coming months, the legislature will take up the fiscal year 2022 budget and next Thursday, my team and I meet with the Chair and Team of Senate Ways and Means to convey our district’s spending priorities.
This is a crucial inflection point for our economy and our Commonwealth. Now is not the time for the Commonwealth’s budget writers to let the allure of promised federal funding to lull us into an austerity mindset where we reduce state investment in areas like education, higher education, public health, health care, housing, transportation, and climate justice.
It’s fitting that earlier this week, on Monday, the Senate passed sweeping climate legislation. As the climate bill becomes law, fueled by public investment, it will stimulate long-term growth throughout the clean energy sector as the requirements for renewable energy targets will be locked into law. We looked ahead to 2030, 2045, 2050 and imagined a better future.
And today’s legislation targets our workforce and our small businesses because that future begins now, with an equitable recovery.