By Manuel Cunha, Jr., Nisei Farmers League.
On January 25, 2022, the Governor’s office announced that Governor Newsom and legislative leaders, Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon reached a framework on extending supplemental paid sick leave through September 30, 2022. Many of our legislative representatives are not informed as to what is in the framework.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the framework includes up to 40 hours of paid leave for those that are sick or caring for an ill loved one and an additional 40 hours if proof of a positive test is provided. Up to 3 days of sick leave can be used to attend a vaccination appointment for themselves or a family member and to recover from any symptoms. In total, this would be 80 hours of COVID sick pay that is retroactive from January 1, 2022.
We understand that the Omicron variant has spread quickly among our communities. It has caused hospitals to approach capacity, placing our heroic health care workers under further stress. We must be doing everything we can to slow the spread of COVID to prevent further deaths.
If businesses are going to use this to help slow the spread of COVID then meaningful tax credits need to be provided to assist business in paying the supplemental paid sick leave. Businesses will pay at minimum $1,200 per employee who is eligible and needs to use the full 80 hours of COVID sick leave. From the prior supplemental COVID sick leave, we have seen that if available, employees will exercise their right to use it.
For example, a small farmer who has about 250 acres of tree fruit employs about 45 seasonal workers. They provide PPE to their workers, including providing extra to take home and did not question anyone when they claimed 80 hours of COVID sick pay under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act in 2020 and again in 2021. They were able to absorb the COVID sick pay costs because the federal government provided a payroll tax credit that allowed them to get a credit for the full amount of COVID sick pay that was provided to their workers. The business credits proposed in the Governor’s office announcement would do nothing to offset the cost of the proposed COVID sick pay. This small grower would be solely responsible for paying $54,000 in sick pay wages. That amount does not even include the payroll taxes.
If the Governor and legislature are going to use businesses to help slow the spread of COVID and get people vaccinated, then use some of that $31 billion surplus to assist business, such as the small farmer, in providing COVID sick pay. With the supply chain and logistic issues, many farmers took a loss last year. Adding COVID sick pay without a credit is a financial burden that is unsustainable.