Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Introduces Bill to Prevent Forced Furloughs for Nurses During Coronavirus Crisis

May 12, 2020
Press Release
Washington, DC—Today, Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) and Rodney Davis (IL-13) introduced H.R.6809, the Nurse Workforce Protection Act, which would prevent a healthcare provider from laying off a significant portion of its nursing workforce or significantly reducing their hours during the coronavirus crisis as a condition for receiving federal emergency relief funds. Reps. Gabbard and Davis are leaders of the bipartisan Congressional Nursing Caucus and May 6-12 is National Nurses Week.
 
In April, 1.4 million health care workers, including many nurses, lost their jobs. Congress has appropriated $175 billion to help health care providers respond to COVID-19 and address lost revenue because of the virus. To be eligible for federal funding, the Nurse Workforce Protection Act requires a health care provider to retain at least 75% of its nurses and cannot reduce their pay or hours by more than 25%. Additionally, the bill prohibits providers from forcing nurses to take paid or unpaid leave.
 
“Nurses are our frontline heroes, putting their lives on the line during this public health crisis every single day. They deserve the support they need to do their jobs. Budgets should not be balanced on the backs of these vital workers who are saving people’s lives. This is the very reason Congress created the Provider Relief Fund in the CARES Act,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. “So many of our nurses are working under extreme conditions, suffering through major shortages of personal protective equipment, being separated from their families, and working sustained emergency hours and conditions. They have our backs. We must have theirs.”
 
"Nurses are the backbone of our health care delivery system and if a provider is receiving federal funding, they should not be furloughing nurses," said Rep. Rodney Davis. "Congress is providing $175 billion to our health care providers and they should be using this funding, in part, to maintain staff. This bill simply asks the same of health care providers as we have of the small businesses participating in the Paycheck Protection Program: if you're receiving taxpayer dollars that will not be paid back, you should be using it to keep people employed."
 
Background: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is a Congressional leader in efforts to help America’s nurses and strengthen the U.S. nursing workforce. She is the co-chair of the Congressional Nursing Caucus.
 
H.R.6809, the Nurse Workforce Protection Act, would establish that health care providers receiving funding through the Provider Relief Fund would be prohibited from:
 
  • furloughing or laying off more than 25% of their nurses, or
  • decreasing salary or hours by more than 25%, or
  • requiring nurses to use paid leave vacation days
 
Nursing employment levels, salary levels, and hours worked will be based on those numbers on January 31, 2020 – the date HHS declared a Public Health Emergency. Providers have up to 2 months to rehire nurses already furloughed or sent home in order to qualify for future funding. For health care providers that have already received funding and subsequently made reductions before enactment of this law, those providers will be required to return back to the required levels based on January 31 numbers to be eligible for future funding. They would have 30 days to do so. The bill would also give the Health and Human Services Secretary the authority to recoup 100% of funding provided for providers that violate these terms.
 
Rep. Gabbard has also urged House Leaders to support essential workers and to adopt labor rules that would ensure they receive full pay as they work to serve others during the pandemic. She also called for first responders and emergency service workers to receive hazard pay as well as additional resources for supplies — especially PPE — so they can keep safe while protecting Americans during this crisis. Rep. Gabbard has called for specific provisions to protect frontline healthcare workers, including financial assistance, preventing pay cuts, and protecting these critical workers against retaliation for things like wearing their own personal protective equipment or whistleblowing on unsafe practices in their facilities.
 
Beyond the coronavirus, last year, Rep. Gabbard introduced the bipartisan H.R.728, the Title VIII Nursing Workforce Reauthorization Act with Congressional Nursing Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Dave Joyce (OH-14) along with the caucus Vice Chairs, Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01) and Rodney Davis (IL-13) and Reps. Kathy Castor (FL-14), Doris Matsui (CA-06), David McKinley (WV-01), and Lauren Underwood (IL-14). The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the bill unanimously before the House adopted the bill by voice vote in October 2019. In March 2020, the bill was included as part of the larger CARES Act, the third COVID-19 emergency funding bill passed by Congress.
 
About Rep. Tulsi Gabbard: Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is serving her fourth term in the United States House representing Hawai‘i’s Second District, and serves on the House Armed Services and Financial Services Committees. She previously served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Homeland Security Committee. She was elected to the Honolulu City Council in 2010, and prior to that at age 21, was elected to the Hawaiʻi State Legislature in 2002, becoming the youngest person ever elected in the state. Tulsi Gabbard has served in the Hawaiʻi Army National Guard for over 16 years, is a veteran of two Middle East deployments, and continues to serve as a Major. Learn more about Rep. Tulsi Gabbard...
 
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