Information on emergency legislative responses to the Covid-19 pandemic

So far, five bills have passed through the House and Senate and are now signed into law.

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (H.R. 1319)

On March 11, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan, legislation that is historic for its breadth and ambition but more importantly because, unlike previous stimulus efforts, the direct beneficiaries of this legislation are working families.

The package is rightly getting a great deal of attention for the direct payments of up to $1,400 to lower- and middle-income Americans, but it also accomplishes much more, providing aid on a variety of fronts that will help keep workers safe and secure now and into the future. Below are some of its most significant accomplishments.

  • Pension protection: provides up to $86 billion for struggling multiemployer pension plans, which will directly protect the futures of 120,000 active USW members and retirees. The legislation stabilizes the pension system that has 10 million union members, widows, and retirees.
  • Public health: provides $48.3 billion for testing, contact tracing and personal protective equipment (PPE); $7.5 billion for vaccine distribution; and $5.2 billion for procurement of vaccines and supplies, as well as $10 billion to expand domestic production of PPE, vaccines and medical supplies under the Defense Production Act.
  • Workplace safety: grants $150 million for COVID-19 worker protections, with $75 million dedicated to OSHA enforcement in high-risk sectors including those where USW members work. This has been a USW priority since the pandemic began.
  • Direct payments: provides for direct payments of up to $1,400 to Americans who need it the most.
  • Tax cuts for families: low- and moderate-income households (those making $91,000 or less) would receive nearly 70 percent of the tax benefits from the measure. Families with children would get an average tax cut of more than $6,000 under the bill.
  • Unemployment benefits: enhanced unemployment benefits through September, provide an additional $300 per week on top of all state unemployment benefits. Also included is a provision to waive taxes on the first $10,200 in unemployment income for those who made less than $150,000 in adjusted gross income in 2020. This means so much to the thousands of USW members who were laid off or lost their jobs during the pandemic.
  • Full COBRA subsidies: extends COBRA coverage for uninsured workers with a 100 percent subsidy; this is vital for many of our Steelworker siblings.
  • Education: provides for $130 billion to help schools. This funding will allow the CDC’s recommended steps to go forward, ensuring students, educators, and employees, including USW members and our children, can return to the classroom safely.
  • Relief for State and Local Governments: provides $350 billion in aid to state, local, tribal and territorial governments to help deal with the budgetary impact of the pandemic, including $195.3 billion for states and Washington, D.C.; $130.2 billion for local governments; $20 billion for tribal governments; and $4.5 billion for U.S. territories.
  • Veterans: provides $386 million to create a rapid retraining program for veterans who are unemployed because of the pandemic.

Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act - CARES 3.5 (H.R. 266)

Click here to download this summary as a printable PDF.

On April 24, 2020, the 4th emergency supplemental plan became law to provide additional aid for the COVID-19 pandemic. Commonly known as CARES 3.5, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act is dramatically shorter bill (HR 266).

The two sections of the bill are focused on the following: 

Increases authority for commitments and appropriations for Paycheck Protection Program

The legislation increases the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) by $321 billion.

  • $60 billion is reserved for smaller lending institutions
  • $50 billion for the Disaster Loans Program Account
  • an additional $10 billion for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. To learn more about EIDL grants, click here.

The health provisions in the bill provide $100 billion in new health care funding, in addition to new requirements for a national testing strategy.

  • $75 billion is provided for the purpose of reimbursing hospitals and health care providers for additional expenses related to COVID-19 care, treatment and prevention, as well as foregone revenue due to the pandemic.
  • $25 billion is provided for COVID-19 testing
  • $11 billion for states, localities, territories, tribes, tribal organizations, urban Indian health organizations, or health service providers to tribes for necessary expenses to develop, purchase, administer, process, and analyze COVID–19 tests.
  • more than $8 billion remains undesignated, and HHS has discretion to spend it on various Covid-19 testing needs.
  • the roughly $6 billion remaining is then broken into seven pots of funding focused on National Institutes for Health, Centers for Disease Control, Federal Drug Administration, Health Resources Services Administration, rural health clinics, and Research & Development. 

The bill requires a number of testing and data collection requirements. First being a national strategic testing plan that details how the Administration will increase domestic testing capacity, address disparities, and provide assistance and resources to states, localities, territories, and tribes.

There are also requirements to do regular reporting of demographic data, including on race, ethnicity, age, sex, geographic region, and other factors for COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, and epidemiological analysis of such data.

Finally the bill requires states, localities, territories, and tribes to submit to the Secretary information on tests needed, laboratory and testing capacity, and how it will use provided resources.

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act - CARES Act (S. 3548)

Click here to download a PDF summary of the CARES Act you can share with members of your local.

The bill has more than ten times the amount spent on the first two coronavirus bills combined. It's more than double the cost of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was the most significant stimulus bill enacted following the 2008 financial crisis.

Here are a few key provisions:

  • Additional Income Assistance – A $1,200 one-time payment per adult (up to $75,000 in annual income for individuals and $150,000 for joint filers) and $500 per child. Families should expect these checks in the next three weeks. Find more information on that HERE.
  • Improvements to Unemployment Insurance (UI) - $600 per week in addition to state UI benefits for four months, a temporary UI program for the part-time, self-employed, gig economy, and other workers excluded from regular UI, 13 additional weeks of unemployment benefits, and federal funding for states to waive waiting weeks. These provisions will be eligible through December 31, 2020. The bill also allows for $360 million for worker training and support and implementation costs at the Department of Labor. (*Find state-specific UI resources HERE.)
  • Other Consumer Financial Protections - Suspends adverse consumer credit reporting until 120 days after pandemic in the case of forbearance of payment modification. Student loan interest accrual and payments are also suspended for six months. 

What's Missing: 

  • No OSHA emergency standard to better protect frontline workers. See a recent letter HERE denouncing recent attempts to cover up PPE shortages by muzzling health care workers who are on the front lines of fighting the pandemic. 
  • No fix for paid leave exemptions for employers who have more than 500 employees. We are working diligently to engage at state levels to get this exemption lifted – look for more information from Rapid Response next week on that.
  • Nothing to protect at risk pensions or help laid-off workers with COBRA premiums. 

The bill is massive, and we are still trying to unravel it, but we also know we need to continue to push for more relief and economic stimulus. We will continue to get information to you as the situation changes.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201)

This is a critical first step in making sure working people facing serious health and financial risks receive the assistance we need.

  • Provides for Free COVID-19 Testing – Private insurance companies and government programs like Medicaid/Medicare/TRICARE are now required to cover testing of COVID-19 with no cost and no cost-sharing, and reimburse labs for testing of the uninsured.
  • Implements Emergency Paid Sick Leave – Employers having less than 500 employees are now required to provide up to 80 hours of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular pay for quarantine, treatment or care of a family member related to the coronavirus.
  • Provides for Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion – This legislation ensures 12 weeks of protected job leave for workers to care for a child whose school or child care facility is closed as a result of the coronavirus.
  • Provides Additional Resources for Unemployment Insurance – An additional $1 billion in 2020 for emergency administration grants will be available to states for activities related to processing and paying unemployment insurance benefits.

Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 (H.R. 6074)

This is an emergency spending bill that was signed into law March 6, 2020.

It allocates $8.3 billion for help to fund vaccine development, treatment, and public health efforts. You can find a breakdown of where that money is going HERE.

What we still need

H.R. 6559, the COVID-19 Every Worker Protection Act of 2020 

Click here to read our letter to the U.S. House of Representatives urging them to pass this legislation. It is essential that Congress ensures all essential workers are protected during this national pandemic. The COVID-19 Every Worker Protection Act of 2020 would require OSHA to take the emergency action necessary to protect our nation’s vital workforce, and we urge Congress to pass or include this legislation in the next COVID-19 related package. 

H.R. 6390/S. 3568The Medical Supply Chain Emergency Act of 2020 

Click here to read our letter to the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate urging them to pass this legislation. The Mediacl Supply Chain Emergency Act would ensure critically needed medical supplies are produced and delivered in a rapid, efficient manner by utilizing the Defense Production Act (DPA) to ramp up manufacturing. 

Other items

We have outlined a number of asks on what federal assistance looks like in response of COVID-19 and a possible recession.

Additional Union Resources

USW COVID-19 Resources

Position statements on trade and health and safety.

Press Inquiries

Media Contacts

Communications Director:
Jess Kamm at 412-562-6961

USW@WORK (USW magazine)
Editor R.J. Hufnagel

For industry specific inquiries,
Call USW Communications at 412-562-2442

Mailing Address

United Steelworkers
Communications Department
60 Blvd. of the Allies
Pittsburgh, PA 15222