A proposed plan that congressional Democrats hope to add to a fourth economic stimulus aims to provide premium pay for frontline workers for long hours spent in hazardous conditions during the ongoing COVID-19 response, though the plan admits the definition of essential workers “will be the subject of debate.”
The language does not mention school bus drivers by name, but it provides mention of first responders, a category the industry would certainly include school bus drivers in.
Curt Macysyn, executive director of the National School Transportation Association, told School Transportation News that the organization “is going to make a push for school bus drivers to be included” in the proposal.
Nationwide, school bus drivers are providing essential food delivery to students and families during state and local stay-at-home orders and school building closures, though distance learning is in place in most areas.
School bus drivers are also delivering school supplies and homework to students who don’t have sufficient internet access for eLearning, and in some areas school bus Wi-Fi hotspots are delivering necessary internet access, where broadband connections don’t exist or are spotty.
“Senate Democrats believe in providing premium pay to frontline workers during this pandemic to reward essential frontline workers, ensure the retention of essential workers who are working grueling hours on the frontlines of this crisis, and promote the recruitment of additional workers who will be needed in the months ahead,” read a statement issued on Tuesday, when Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer unveiled “The COVID-19 Heroes Fund.”
The plan would provide a $25,000 premium pay increase, equivalent to a $13 an hour raise, for essential workers, retroactive to the start of the public health emergency on Jan. 27 and in place until the end of this year.
A statement issued by Schumer’s office on Tuesday said Democrat leadership seeks input is on how to deliver the increased pay to workers as well as “the universe of essential workers to be covered.”
“This proposal is not meant to exclude any worker from this conversation. Rather, we hope this proposal will encourage a discussion about how large and diverse this universe of workers truly is,” notes the plan. “Our goal is to make federal, state, tribal, local and private sector essential workers that are at risk eligible for this benefit.”
Schumer also said that he views transportation workers as essential employees, alongside doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, and others who are central to fighting this crisis.
Additionally, the new plan would provide a $15,000 essential worker recruitment incentive for health and home care workers and first responders to attract and secure the workforce needed during the pandemic. The $15,000 would be a one-time premium, when signing up to do essential work.
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Employers in industries engaged in essential work would be able to apply for the Heroes Funds, which would be included as a line item to employees or independent contractor’s paychecks. The pay would only be provided to public-facing frontline employees, not those working from their homes.
The cap on the total amount of a new stimulus package, which federal agency would be responsible for distributing the funds, and when the bill would go into effect remained uncertain at this report. However, Republican lawmakers have advocated for allowing time for the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program to reach small businesses before releasing more federal money.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include feedback from the NSTA.