WASHINGTON — President Biden on Wednesday called for employers to provide workers with paid time off for coronavirus vaccination, holding out as enticement a federal tax credit program that would reimburse such outlays by business owners.
“No working American should lose a single dollar from their paycheck because they chose to fulfill their patriotic duty of getting vaccinated,” Biden said in remarks from the White House.
As he spoke, the president stood before a blue screen emblazoned with the words “200 million COVID shots.” The purpose of the remarks was to tout the 200 millionth vaccine dose administered during his time in office. More than a quarter of all Americans are now fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, but public health officials worry that continued intransigence could prevent the nation from achieving herd immunity.
A presidential fact sheet on the new tax credit also called on employers to provide vaccination incentives such as product giveaways and discounts to employees.
As has frequently been the case during the pandemic (for both Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump), the federal government can try to persuade state governments and private businesses to take certain actions, such as instituting mask mandates, but even the White House is limited in what it can compel.
The issue of paid leave has been a contentious one since the pandemic began. Democrats have pushed paid leave as both a compassionate and a scientifically sensible policy, while Republicans have complained that it is too expensive. Trump signed paid leave provisions into law last March, but they were not as expansive as Democrats wanted and were further weakened in December, when Congress ratified and Trump signed a second coronavirus relief plan.
There were already funds for paid leave tax credits in Biden’s coronavirus relief package, and the tax credit announced on Wednesday will come from that $1.9 trillion measure.
Businesses that employ up to 500 people will be reimbursed as much as $511 per worker per day for up to 10 days. The reimbursement will be deducted from the share of the Medicare taxes that businesses are expected to pay.
The leave policy covers not only vaccination itself but also any after-effects. Some people have experienced flulike illness after receiving a second vaccine shot. Such a reaction results from the human immune system learning to respond properly to the virus, but it can be debilitating for some.
With Wednesday’s announcement, the Biden administration is seeking to incentivize vaccination among people who don’t have the kind of work flexibility that allows an absence of several hours, and who may fear losing pay if they do take time off to keep a vaccination appointment.
Some employers have already incentivized employee vaccinations, but many of these have been large corporations like the Kroger supermarket chain and retail giant Target. The new tax incentive is aimed at smaller businesses that operate at narrower margins.
Employers, the president said, “should be supported for doing the right thing.”
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