FederalHealthcareStatewide NewsTaxes & SpendingGrocers and Pharmacies Fear Paid Sick Leave Bill Will Harm Industry When They Are Needed Most

Congress plans on instituting a mandatory paid sick leave program which has caused many small businesses to worry about their futures at a time when they're scrambling to keep up with demand.
March 17, 2020
The House of Representatives passed a coronavirus testing/paid sick leave bill over the weekend by a wide margin, but it nearly didn’t get out of the House after Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX-01) raised concerns over its 87-page “technical corrections” amendment. 

Ultimately, he didn’t stop the bill and it is now on its way to the Senate.

After its passage, however, the National Grocers Association (NGA) and National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) sent a letter to congressional leadership in both houses expressing their concerns — specifically regarding its paid sick leave provisions.

The letter stated, “While well-intentioned, H.R. 6201 could potentially have disastrous unintended consequences on the ability of our members to continue serving the public throughout this crisis.”

Grocers and pharmacists are not occupations that have the luxury of working remotely. And so, the bill’s paid sick leave provisions — 14 immediate days of sick leave and up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave — would directly apply to their member businesses who employ fewer than 500 employees.

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“Although it’s critical to encourage sick or quarantined workers to stay home and minimize the risk of spread, we are concerned that the bill’s broad employee paid leave justifications would leave supermarkets and pharmacies shorthanded during a time of crisis,” the letter continued.

In other words, the association representing pharmacists and grocers are concerned that the House bill will mean layoffs for employees in their industry at a time when those two industries are arguably two of the most crucial in the midst of a pandemic.

According to the Texas Board of Pharmacy’s 2018 annual report, there are 35,933 licensed pharmacists in Texas with 43,330 pharmacy techs and 8,170 total pharmacies across the state.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency last week and the state’s testing capabilities are beginning to ramp up. But Texas is still far from gaining control over the virus’ spread. 

The number of those infected is expected to continue rising in the U.S. and so is the number of people who need to be quarantined.

Americans have reacted by rushing to collect provisions at grocery stores and other supply stores — a phenomenon that has put the pressure on those businesses to keep the supply up with the demand.

“Our industries are already facing staffing challenges at a time of unprecedented demand, and our members need flexibility in managing their workforce to ensure the public continues to have access to food and medicine.”

To help ease the burden felt by those businesses, the House included a tax credit provision for those businesses who face such paid leave provisions.

But even that, the NGA and NCPA assert, is not enough to level out the load placed on small and medium-sized business owners — questioning whether smaller enterprises can survive the time between paying for the sick leave and receiving the tax credit benefits.

“Independent supermarkets and pharmacies carefully manage their cash flow, and the bill presumes liquidity and a tolerance for debt that simply does not exist in the current crisis. When you add in disruptions posed by COVID-19 with this new federally mandated paid FMLA and sick leave, our members may not be able to stay afloat at a time when they are needed most to care for their communities.”

A kind of fiscal and supply-chain demand squeezing makes for a tough time.

Texas giant H-E-B has worked diligently to keep their supply up with consumer demand. But the Texas staple both has a superior supply-chain apparatus and has more than 500 employees and is thus exempted from the new paid sick leave mandate.

But, tread on, they must.

Various small to mid-sized grocery stores in Texas declined to comment, saying they were too busy trying to restock their shelves to keep up with the demand to pay attention to all the details in Congress’ rushed attempt to pass coronavirus legislation.

The bill is now in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has reportedly told concerned Republicans to “gag and vote for it anyway.” 


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.