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House Democrats push for protections for health care workers in next aid package

House Democrats push for protections for health care workers in next aid package
© Greg Nash

House Democrats are pushing for more support for health care workers in the next coronavirus response bill, including financial assistance and protection against retaliation for speaking up about working conditions.

In a letter to Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump expressed doubt to donors GOP can hold Senate: report Senators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session Sunday shows preview: Trump, Biden gear up for final sprint to Election Day MORE (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerTop Democrats introduce resolution calling for mask mandate, testing program in Senate Trump orders aides to halt talks on COVID-19 relief This week: Coronavirus complicates Senate's Supreme Court fight MORE (D-Md.), 77 House Democrats, led by Rep. Norma TorresNorma Judith TorresIt's past time to be rid of the legacy of Jesse Helms Hispanic Caucus asks for Department of Labor meeting on COVID in meatpacking plants The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden's latest plan on racial inequality MORE (D-Calif.), said the next COVID-19 response bill should include provisions that “protect those fighting for us on the frontlines.”

“As Congress looks toward the next stimulus package, we ask that you include provisions that protect the jobs of these frontline workers and ensure they are duly compensated and supported for the risk they are undertaking,” the lawmakers wrote.

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They said hospitals and health facilities should be prevented from cutting pay and benefits of providers and health workers. Hospitals in several states have had to put elective surgeries on pause, which are big money makers for the health care industry.

“Just as we are supporting small businesses to keep employees on payroll and prevent cuts to worker pay, we should ensure that hospitals and health facilities support our providers and support staff as well,” the lawmakers wrote.

They also called for additional funding to pay health workers “essential worker pay,” temporary housing for health workers who need to quarantine away from their families and child care in areas where schools have been closed.

Health care workers infected with COVID-19 should also receive financial support for treatment of themselves and their families, the lawmakers wrote, and survivors’ benefits should be available for families of health workers who die from COVID-19.

The lawmakers also said Congress should direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard detailing safety requirements hospitals and health facilities must take to protect health workers.

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“When America goes to war, we take care of our soldiers when they are on the frontline and afterwards, when they return home,” they said. “If we are going to fight the coronavirus like a war, we should protect those fighting for us on the frontlines.”

Health care workers are among those with the highest risk of contracting COVID-19 because of exposure to the virus in hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities.

At least 9,000 health workers have contracted COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the agency notes that those cases are likely undercounted.