Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, leaves the Senate Republican Policy luncheon in Russell Building on Tuesday, March 17, 2020.
Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call | Getty Images
Sen. Mitt Romney on Friday proposed a hazard pay raise of up to $12 an hour for essential workers such as health-care and grocery store employees facing greater risks during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Utah Republican’s office said the wage bump, funded one-quarter by employers and three-quarters through a refundable payroll tax credit, would last through July. Senate Democrats released a similar plan last month for a $13 per hour raise for front-line workers, but the pay hike would go through the rest of the year.
It is unclear how quickly lawmakers can pass the next piece of legislation to try to limit the damage from the outbreak, as they will have to agree on a range of issues from hazard pay to state and local government support and liability protection for employers.
Democrats and Republicans in Congress have lionized the essential employees who face more exposure to the coronavirus than Americans who can work from home. But lawmakers have not approved a raise for those workers in the four bills passed so far to try to combat the economic and health damage caused by the outbreak.
“Health care professionals, grocery store workers, food processors, and many others—the unsung patriots on the frontline of this pandemic—every day risk their safety for the health and well-being of our country, and they deserve our unwavering support,” Romney said in a statement Friday.
Romney’s plan would fully cover the raise for essential workers who make less than $50,000 per year annually. The payroll tax credit would start to phase out for workers making above $50,000 per year and go away fully at a cap of $90,000.
The biggest difference between Romney’s plan and Democrats’ proposal is the duration: the Republican’s measure would give the workers a raise for five fewer months. The Democratic plan would also include a $15,000 incentive to recruit essential workers.
Congress will consider at least one more relief bill as the pandemic continues to tear across the country. Covid-19 cases in the U.S. now top 1 million, and the disease has killed at least 63,000 people in the country, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Efforts to slow its spread have left tens of millions of people laid off or furloughed.
Democrats have called for financial relief for state and local governments, funding for the U.S. Postal Service and expanded broadband access, among other measures, in the next bill. Republicans want liability protection for businesses as Americans start to go back to work and face a heightened risk of getting sick.
The Senate will return to Washington next week. The House will not come back to work until the week of May 11 at the earliest.
Romney, the only Republican who voted to convict President Donald Trump after his Senate impeachment trial, was also the sole GOP senator left off a White House task force on reopening the economy.