WASHINGTON, DC — All over the country people are applauding health care workers putting themselves at risk during the pandemic.
"The applause are well deserved, but giving them hazard pay, giving them this heroes fund is also something that is most necessary," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on a Tuesday phone call with reporters.
Senate Democrats say their highest priority is ensuring frontline workers receive hazard pay in the next coronavirus relief package. Hazard pay is bonus pay for performing work that risks health and safety.
The COVID-19 Heroes Fund calls for a $25,000 pay increase for essential workers from now until the end of the year, a raise of $13 an hour.
"This is not just for medical personnel and health care personnel on the front lines. We have janitors who disinfect our medical facilities, truck drivers who deliver supplies where they need to go, grocery store clerks who keep food on the shelves of American pantries, transit workers who keep the trains and buses running and many more," said Schumer.
Joel Griffith at the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation says the focus should be on making sure these workers have the proper protective gear instead of adding new government mandates.
"That could end up pricing some people out of the employment marketplace at the very time when so many people are being laid off," said Griffith.
"I do fear that if we are to mandate that companies increase wages at this time, we run the risk of some employers actually laying off people or actually not hiring or some companies that are still able to function during this crisis, that might actually make the margins so thin that they won't be able to operate. We have to look at the unintended consequences of any mandates," said Griffith.
Griffith says the companies already hiking wages should be commended and that more of this could occur absent government intervention.
The COVID-19 Heroes Fund has no Republican support.
According to the Center for Economic Policy and Research, Kentucky has an estimated 422,000 frontline workers.
The Kroger Company says they've hired over 2,000 new associates in the last 3 weeks in Kentucky, southern Indiana, and southern Illinois regions.
The company is also providing a "Hero Bonus," a two dollar per hour increase for all hourly frontline grocery, supply chain, manufacturing, pharmacy and call center associates.