Health Care

A new paid sick leave plan for coronavirus

Cuomo expands his proposal in response to the public health threat.

Governor Cuomo and state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins at the Coronavirus legislation signing on March 3rd.

Governor Cuomo and state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins at the Coronavirus legislation signing on March 3rd. Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he would amend his budget proposal on paid sick leave to include a provision that would require employers to pay workers and protect their jobs if they are quarantined because of the coronavirus. The announcement of the change came at a press conference Tuesday morning at the state Capitol where Cuomo signed a controversial new law expanding his gubernatorial powers in the event of such an emergency. 

“I'm going to amend the paid sick leave bill that I sent to the Legislature to where there is a specific provision that says people, who because of this situation with coronavirus, have to be quarantine should be protected,” the governor said. “Their employer should pay them for the period of quarantine and their job should be protected. And I'm going to make that available to be paid sick leave, bill that I sent up.”

A total of $40 million in additional funding was also included to pay for things like additional testing materials, health care training and quarantine facilities. State lawmakers passed the legislation by overwhelming margins late last night in an extraordinary second session of the day. “I did not think when we gavelled out that we would be gaveling in,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told reporters at the Tuesday morning press conference alongside Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “That was a first for me as a leader, but given the facts, given the circumstances, that was the right thing to do.” 

The action in Albany comes as a second case of the coronavirus was confirmed with a 50-year-old New Rochelle man who had no recent travel abroad, the governor said at Tuesday’s press conference. Two Buffalo families that recently traveled to Italy are currently being tested. While the virus has yet to spread throughout the state as it has in other areas of the country – at least six people have recently died in Washington state – Cuomo said he anticipates additional cases. 

The new law – which sunsets in April 2021 – allows the governor to “affirmatively” take action beyond current law in order to deal with Coronavirus. “A suspension of a law isn’t enough,” the governor said. That doesn’t give you the ability to do anything. How do you do quarantine? How do you do anything?” 

A provision in the law also allows the governor to adopt a similar approach to natural disasters as varied as flooding and volcanoes. “Let see where it is next April,” the governor said in response to a question about whether he would want the changes made permanent.

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