SACRAMENTO – California lawmakers are considering legislation that would require hospitals, clinics and skilled nursing facilities to pay medical professionals $10,000 in "hero pay" for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But some employers and business groups have bristled at the $7 billion price tag, calling the bill "dangerous and costly."

Assembly Bill 650 by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Rolling Hills Estates, would award bonuses in four equal payments of $2,500 during 2022, with smaller bonuses for those who work part time. The pay would be spread out in hopes that the cash would entice health care workers to remain in their jobs, said the bill's main proponent, the Service Employees International Union California, a labor union whose membership includes health care workers.

"We had the privilege of working from the safety of our homes. Our front-line health care workers day in and day out had to go on the front lines of this pandemic and go into combat against this horrific virus," Muratsuchi said. "They went to work putting themselves at risk on a daily basis to take care of our families, our loved ones, those among us who suffered and died from this terrible virus."

The bill faces a vote in the Assembly this week. If it passes, it will then head to the Senate for consideration.

Under the legislation, hazard pay bonuses would be paid next year on Jan. 1, April 1, July 1 and Oct. 1 to each health care worker who qualifies. If an employer already gave workers bonuses during the pandemic, that could be subtracted from their employees' cash awards. The bill exempts small health care providers with fewer than 100 employees.

Alex Hawthorne, a lobbyist for the California Hospital Association, said the massive price tag to offer the bonuses comes as hospitals are digging out of the financial hole left by the pandemic. Hawthorne said hospitals in the state received $8.6 billion in federal relief, but suffered $14 billion in losses during the pandemic. Half of the hospitals in California are operating at a loss, he said.

Hospitals estimate that the bonuses in the bill would cost them $4 billion statewide, according to an Assembly analysis of the bill.

"We have had to make monumental operational changes that have crippled our hospitals' finances," Hawthorne said.

Amendments made Tuesday to the bill allow a health care employer to seek an exemption by declaring under punishment of perjury that they can't afford to pay the bonuses to employees.

The California Chamber of Commerce included the bill on its annual "job killer" list that highlights laws that corporate interests say will hurt employment and the economy.

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