Federal agencies used only about two-thirds of a special leave fund created by a pandemic relief law enacted early in 2021, with the USPS accounting for the large majority.
That law created a $570 million “emergency paid leave” fund from which agencies could draw to pay up to 600 hours—the equivalent of 15 work weeks—of additional leave for employees who cannot work due to certain pandemic-related conditions. Primarily that involved being in quarantine or being ill with COVID; caring for a child whose school or place of care has been closed or is conducting virtual learning; or caring for a family member incapable of self-care whose care provider is unavailable due to COVID.
That leave was payable at the employee’s regular rate of pay, with a cap of $2,800 biweekly. The authority expired last September 30 but there was a lag time involving the fund itself as agencies filed for and then received reimbursement. However, given that three months have now passed, the latest accounting, as of the start of this year, likely is close to final.
Those figures show that $361 million had been allocated to agencies, $268 million of that to the USPS—whose employees accounted for 10.5 million of the 13.4 million hours of leave charged against the fund. The Department of Defense was second, at $35 million, with Labor, IRS, VA and SSA around $10 million each.
In contrast, among large Cabinet Departments, Treasury charged only about $17,700 against the fund, Energy $43,500 and Education, $52,000.
The conditions for using the fund were largely the same as those under a special form of sick leave created by one of the pandemic relief laws enacted early in 2020, except that the prior law required that employees use up their regular sick leave before being eligible. That law provided for less than full salary, though, and apparently was little used in the federal workplace before it expired at the end of 2020.