SALT LAKE CITY — Workers who face a greater risk of COVID-19 could receive up to $12 an hour more for the next three months under a proposal Sen. Mitt Romney unveiled on Friday.
The Utah Republican’s “patriot pay” plan calls for one-quarter of the bonus to be paid by the employer and three-quarters by the federal government through a refundable payroll tax credit.
“I think this is a matter of fundamental fairness,” Romney told reporters in a video press conference. “These people are taking a health risk providing food for us at our grocery stores, driving our buses and transit vehicles, making sure we have the health care we need in hospitals and clinics, keeping our hospitals clean.”
A grocery store, for example, could opt into the program to give its employees a $12 per hour bonus for May, June and July. The store would put in $3, while the federal government would add $9, meaning a $10 per hour worker would receive an extra $5,760 for those three months.
The program is also designed to make sure that people who are working to provide those services are earning as much money or more than those on unemployment, he said, adding the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill has allowed some to make more by not having a job.
Romney was the among the first senators to propose the government write a check to all Americans to help them deal with the financial fallout of the coronavirus outbreak. Congress included a $1,200 payment for people making up to $75,000 a year in the rescue package passed in March.
Romney said other senators have found his “patriot pay” idea interesting, though he hasn’t tried to line up support for it. He apparently hasn’t taken it to the White House.
I’m introducing #PatriotPay because our essential workers—those putting themselves in greater risk on the frontlines of #COVID19—deserve our unwavering support. For more information on my plan to help ensure essential workers receive greater compensation→ https://t.co/NCznX3VgVc— Senator Mitt Romney (@SenatorRomney) May 1, 2020
President Donald Trump named every Republican senator to his bipartisan task force for reopening the U.S. economy amid the coronavirus pandemic. Trump acknowledged last month that he holds a grudge against Romney for voting to remove him from office in his impeachment trial and said he doesn’t need his advice.
The president has said he’s considering hazard pay for health care workers.
“This is consistent with something he said he’s open to or is considering,” Romney said of his proposal.
Democrats also have said the next relief package should require additional pay for workers such as doctors, nurses and first responders.
Some businesses in Utah, such as grocery stores, have already upped workers’ pay a couple of dollars an hour. Romney said that would count toward any extra compensation employers would contribute under the program. He also anticipates businesses would pass the cost on to customers.
“Whether we pay in the price of our additional goods or we pay through our taxes, this is something which, obviously, the consumers in America are going to pick up the tab for,” he said. But workers, he said, deserve more money because of the risks they are taking.
Romney’s plan would help ensure essential workers in critical industries as designated by the Department of Labor and Congress receive greater compensation than the unemployment insurance rate.
Under the program, employers would receive a 75% refundable payroll tax credit for a bonus up to $12 an hour for workers who make less than $50,000 a year. For those who earn more than $50,000 annually, the tax credit would phase out by $24 for every additional $500 in income until the income hit $90,000.
The maximum tax credit is $1,440 per month per employee, meaning a full-time worker would receive up to a $1,920 monthly bonus.
Employees would have to work at least 100 hours each month they receive the bonus to be eligible for the proposed tax credit.