Legislature Passes COVID-19 Relief Bill Including Emergency Paid Sick Leave Championed By Senator Lewis

The Massachusetts House and Senate last month finalized a COVID-19 relief package to assist workers and small businesses as they continue to deal with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. The comprehensive legislation includes unemployment insurance rate relief for businesses, tax relief for unemployed workers and businesses that received federal Paycheck Protection Program loans, an extension to the income tax filing deadline, and new emergency paid sick leave benefits for workers.

The emergency paid sick leave provision included within the bill was based on legislation filed last year by Senator Jason Lewis and Representatives Paul Donato and Sean Garballey to respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

“No worker should have to choose between staying home if they risk spreading COVID-19 and earning a paycheck to support their family, but unfortunately this impossible choice faces many workers who do not have adequate job-protected paid sick leave during this pandemic, especially low-income essential workers,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “I’m very pleased that emergency paid sick time is included within this legislation, and grateful to my colleagues, the Raise Up coalition and business leaders for working collaboratively to make this possible.”

“Giving working people access to up to 40 hours of paid time off if they contract the virus, need to quarantine, or care for a family member affected by COVID will bring defeating this virus within reach,” said Chris Condon, Political Director of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 509 and a member of the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition. “The strong advocacy of our grassroots coalition of community organizations, faith-based groups, and labor unions and the consistent leadership of Senator Lewis and Representatives Donato and Garballey mean that this important measure will soon be available to Massachusetts working people and their loved ones.”

Employers will be required to provide emergency paid sick time to employees who are unable to work due to the coronavirus, including those who are self-isolating; receiving medical treatment or an immunization; recovering from a disability due to COVID-19; complying with a quarantine order; caring for a family member including a domestic partner; or are unable to telework due to COVID-19. The bill also establishes a COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave Fund, which will be administered by the Executive Office for Administration and Finance and used to reimburse eligible employers for providing emergency paid sick leave to their employees.

The relief package includes a two-year unemployment insurance (UI) rate freeze for employers to mitigate the impact of a scheduled April rate increase. It also waives state taxes on forgiven federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans as well as federal Economic Injury Disaster Loans.

In addition to mitigating the scheduled UI rate increase, the bill authorizes up to $7 billion in low-interest borrowing to repay federal UI loans and includes a temporary two-year employer assessment to ensure the state’s UI Trust Fund remains solvent.

The bill also provides tax relief for lower-income workers who collected unemployment benefits in 2020 and 2021; these individuals can deduct the first $10,200 in unemployment compensation received in both calendar years. The bill prohibits the Department of Revenue from imposing any tax penalties for 2020 based solely on a failure to remit taxes on unemployment compensation. Taxpayers who have already been assessed the penalty will receive an abatement.

Finally, the bill creates a special commission to study and develop recommendations for the long-term solvency of the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, with a report due by December 15, 2021.

The legislation now awaits action by Governor Charlie Baker, who is expected to sign the bill into law soon.