Former Vice President Joe Biden called for the federal government to cover half of some workers’ salaries to help keep people employed during the coronavirus outbreak.
“If these little guys go out of business, they’re out of business. I mean they’re not coming back, likely,” Biden said of small businesses during a CNN town hall Thursday night on the coronavirus. “So I think we should think about how we deal with the economy in a different way.”
“I think we should do a situation like we did in the Recovery Act,” he said, adding that “Employers, if they’re able to stay open, instead of … having to lay off employees – bring on everybody, keep them working, they may have one person doing 50% of the job, another person doing the other 50%. I think the federal government should just come in and make up the difference in the salaries, just make up the difference to keep people employed.”
Biden appeared to be referring to a $5 billion fund set up as a part of the 2009 stimulus that helped subsidize low-income workers. The federal government helped pay for the salaries of some workers in exchange for employers not laying people off.
“Keep people on the payrolls and just have straight flat payment, a flat payment where the government pays half the salary of everybody on there,” Biden later added. “You can keep everybody doing half the work they were doing but everybody stays employed.”
Biden’s comments come as economic slide triggered by the coronavirus outbreak continues to worsen. Twenty-two million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the last four weeks, according to the Department of Labor, while the Treasury Department races to get coronavirus stimulus checks to tens of millions of taxpayers.
The recent $2 trillion stimulus package includes some impetus for businesses to retain employees. It offers assistance to those who have had their hours reduced by providing incentives to states to adopt work-sharing programs, which allow employers to cut workers’ hours but not lay them off. Those workers are then eligible for some unemployment benefits.
CNN’s Anneken Tappe and Tami Luhby contributed to this report.