Sen. Joni Ernst joined Gov. Kim Reynolds Sunday at her daily press briefing via video conference to outline key provisions of the three bills signed by President Trump to assist individual Americans, small businesses and large companies impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
From her home in Red Oak, Ernst said she and Sen. Chuck Grassley “worked diligently” on all three pieces of legislation enacted to treat and mitigate the spread, and economic impact, of COVID-19.
Lost amid the list of accomplishments, however, was the vote both Iowa senators took to strip “phase two” legislation, the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” of its paid sick leave provision.
Ernst and Grassley were among the 50 senators to vote in favor of Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson’s amendment “To strike Federally mandated sick pay and paid family leave and replace it with financial support provided through the State administered unemployment insurance systems and funds.”
The amendment failed because it did not garner the 60 votes necessary for passage. The Iowa senators ultimately voted for the bill, which passed March 18.
At Reynolds’ Sunday press conference, Ernst called the paid sick leave provision “a significant part” of the phase two bill.
“A significant part of phase two was also making sure that our workers, our moms and dads, have paid sick leave, emergency sick leave, so that if they were affected by the coronavirus then they would be covered for the time that they had to take away from their employer,” Ernst said.
At a town hall meeting March 6, in response to a question from the audience about federally mandated paid sick leave, Ernst said she did not support it.
“If it’s private industry, I think private industry can decide what is best for their employees,” Ernst said in Jefferson, Iowa. “I am a proponent of paid family leave, but that’s when you’re having a baby, adopting a new child. I don’t dive into mandating sick leave.”
At the time of her town hall, Iowa hadn’t confirmed any cases of COVID-19. The state’s first three “presumptive positive” cases were announced two days later.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides all American businesses with fewer than 500 employees tax credits to provide their workers with paid leave, either because they are sick or to care for family members. The new law takes effect Wednesday.
As Bleeding Heartland reported, at the press conference Ernst also touted a $250 billion expansion in unemployment insurance, despite voting for an amendment in the phase three CARES Act to “ensure” unemployment benefits do not total more than an individual would typically earn before being laid off due to the pandemic.
The Republican senators who drafted the amendment said the bill’s proposal to increase the maximum unemployment benefit by $600 for four months would “create an incentive for folks to stop working,” according to Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse.
This amendment also failed to clear the 60-vote threshold and the expansion to unemployment insurance was signed into law Friday.
By Elizabeth Meyer