COVID-19

Republicans propose funding cuts to OSHA during pandemic

Meghan McCarty Carino Nov 11, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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Loren Sweatt, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, responds to questions during a House subcommittee hearing on the federal government's actions to protect workers during COVID-19 on May 28, 2020 in Washington. Rod Lamkey/Pool/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Republicans propose funding cuts to OSHA during pandemic

Meghan McCarty Carino Nov 11, 2020
Loren Sweatt, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, responds to questions during a House subcommittee hearing on the federal government's actions to protect workers during COVID-19 on May 28, 2020 in Washington. Rod Lamkey/Pool/AFP via Getty Images
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The fate of a new coronavirus relief package is still uncertain and lawmakers face a Dec. 11 deadline to come up with funding to keep the federal government open. On Tuesday, Senate Republicans unveiled a flurry of spending bills, and one cuts $11 million out of the worker safety program, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, during the pandemic.

The role of OSHA has never been so important, said Debbie Berkowitz with the National Employment Law Project.

“We know that workplace exposures are a significant driver of this pandemic,” Berkowitz said.

She said that under the Trump administration though, the agency has pulled back and is doing little enforcement. OSHA’s website says it has received more than 10,000 COVID-related complaints. The agency has issued fewer than 200 citations since the pandemic began.

“So if OSHA doesn’t act, if OSHA doesn’t inspect, there is nothing,” Berkowitz said. “Workers do not have the right to sue an employer under the OSHA law.”

She expects under the leadership of President-elect Joe Biden the agency will become more aggressive. But that would take more resources, said James Brudney, an employment law professor at Fordham University.

“A more substantial and visible enforcement presence would be very helpful,” Brudney said.

OSHA says with its state partners it has 2,100 inspectors responsible for the safety of 130 million workers.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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