BOSTON (CN) — Former Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday proposed a massive expansion of federal government programs to safely restart the economy.
The federal government would pay many employees’ salaries, provide testing and personal protective equipment to returning workers, guarantee paid sick leave, hire at least 100,000 people to do contact tracing, and provide financial assistance to small businesses, schools, child care programs and public health departments.
President Donald Trump “has a one-point plan for all of this,” Biden said: “Put up the ‘Open for Business’ sign and then just see what happens.”
By contrast, Biden claimed his campaign was offering “an aggressive and comprehensive plan for good-paying job creation.”
Neither Biden’s statement nor his website gave any indication of the cost of the plan.
Biden’s proposals include:
Testing. The federal government would pay for regular Covid-19 testing for every employee called back to work. A national Pandemic Testing Board would coordinate the production and distribution of tests for the whole country.
PPE. All workers are guaranteed to have effective personal protective equipment tailored to their workplace conditions.
Sick leave. Any worker who gets Covid-19 would get federal sick-leave benefits. Sick pay would continue until the worker recovers and goes through any quarantine period, and workers would be guaranteed a right to return to their old jobs.
The government would also cover paid leave for any employee who needs to care for a loved one with Covid-19. These payments would be in addition to any family and medical leave provided by the employer or required by a union contract.
Workers in high-risk groups or who live with someone in a high-risk group would be entitled to especially protective job conditions; if these conditions can’t be provided the worker would be entitled to collect unemployment for the duration of the crisis and then be guaranteed a job when they eventually return.
Contact tracing. The government would create a Public Health Jobs Corps and hire at least 100,000 employees — “and many more, if necessary” — to do contact tracing.
These employees “should come from the communities they serve in order to ensure that they create trust,” Biden said, noting that unions and local governments should be involved in the hiring.
Schools and child care. The federal government would pay for schools and child care providers to obtain personal protective equipment; improve sanitation; alter their classrooms, schedules, class sizes, and transportation so students can physically distance; and upgrade technology and broadband for online learning.
Small businesses. Small businesses would get federal assistance to retain and rehire workers, as well as make necessary safety alterations to their facilities. This includes paying a large part of employees’ salaries so that businesses can rehire all their laid-off workers even if they can’t currently afford to do so.
Minority-owned businesses would get technical assistance, including accounting help and legal advice, so they can more easily take advantage of federal aid programs.
Retail stores. The federal government would pay for a program to give retail businesses a “Safer for Shoppers” sign showing that they have met standards for protecting customers. Stores that pass inspection and get a sign would continue to be monitored through spot-checks.
OSHA rules. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration would develop strict rules for protecting works from Covid-19, and these would be applied even to workers not currently covered by OSHA. There would be “tough fines” for noncompliance.
Union participation. The federal government would make sure that unions have a say in businesses’ reopening plans.
A national dashboard. The federal government will create “an easy-to-read Nationwide Pandemic Dashboard that Americans can check in real-time to help them gauge whether local transmission is actively occurring in their zip codes.”
Public health grants. The government will provide money to state and local public health departments to combat outbreaks.
Long-term care facilities. Biden wants enough testing in these facilities that residents can safely see at least one visitor a week.
“Trump has abdicated any effective federal leadership, leaving state, tribal, and local officials to do their best without help from Washington,” Biden said.
The president “has effectively ceased to mobilize any national public health response,” he added, saying Trump “is essentially hanging a mission accomplished banner because a small fraction of jobs returned when millions were lost because of his incompetent response to Covid-19.”
Biden held a 90-minute roundtable in Philadelphia today to talk about his plan. While he did not mention the potential cost there, either, he did suggest that he wasn’t concerned about the effect of the plan on the stock market.
“There is very little correlation between the health of the stock market and the quality of life for the vast majority of middle-class and working-class and poor folks,” Biden said. “They’re just almost totally disconnected.”