Federal agencies are set to receive emergency funding for disinfecting workplaces, telework, overtime and a variety of other costs related to the coronavirus pandemic under a $2 trillion economic stimulus bill rapidly passed by Congress this week, and signed by President Trump in short order. The White House has said that it wants to fast track implementation.
Money is provided to dozens of Cabinet departments, subagencies and independent agencies for new costs they are incurring in their response efforts, including deep cleaning, personal protective equipment (such as $178 million for DHS), overtime, employee relocations, bolstered infrastructure for telework, and more.
OMB recently told agencies to realign toward mission-critical activities and to maximize telework, and OPM said agencies have the authority to reassign employees to other duties under evacuation authorities – adding to costs associated with COVID-19.
Shortages of personal protective equipment and supplies, as well as the need to more thoroughly clean offices and other workspaces, have meanwhile heightened concerns about risks to employees.
Not included in the bill is any mention of hazard pay – which is being left up to agencies to handle – and is something the National Treasury Employees Union said could be considered in a 4th coronavirus response bill, along with child care and dependent care costs for employees required to report to their offices while most schools are closed.
Like the NTEU, the American Federation of Government Employees largely applauded the bill but took issue with proposals in a bill from House Democrats being left out: “Provisions left out of the bill would have provided hazard duty pay for front-line federal workers, mandated telework across federal agencies, allowed federal employees unable to work to use weather and safety leave, removed barriers for confirming cases of COVID-19 among federal workers, and nullified three anti-worker executive orders that have prevented federal unions from providing input and guidance into agency decisions affecting workers’ health and safety.”
Also, members of Congress active in federal employee issues have said they will continue to push to mandate telework for all employees eligible, with several calling on President Trump to issue an executive order to that effect.
Under the bill, the Department of Health and Human Services would receive $127 billion to help healthcare providers and hospitals meet surging costs and to build up a national stockpile of personal protective equipment that is running in short supply – and billions more for other purposes. For example, the CDC would $4.3 billion for reimbursements and funding to state and local public health responders as well as “enhanced nationwide surveillance, diagnostics, laboratory support,” according to a bill summary from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
It said $17.4 billion would go to Housing and Urban Development for programs such as Community Development Block Grants for senior and homeless care and other public health services, as well as rental assistance or Section 8 housing while the FAA would receive $10 to maintain airport operations at a time when very few are flying, some controllers have fallen ill, and some TSA screeners are staying home.
Breakouts by Appropriations Subcommittee:
Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies [$34.9 billion]
Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies [$3.1 billion]
Defense [$10.5 billion]
Energy and Water Development [$221.4 million] Financial Services and General Government [$1.82 billion]
Homeland Security [$45.9 billion]
Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies [$2.0 billion]
Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies [$172.1 billion] Legislative Branch [$93 million]
Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies [$19.6 billion] State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs [$1.1 billion]
Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies [$48.5 billion]
In addition to funding agencies, the bill contains provisions to suspend for 2020 the requirement that retirees take certain minimum distributions from retirement savings programs such as the TSP once they pass an age threshold, given the recent steep losses in stock markets in response to the Coronavirus pandemic – something that was done for 2009 after the financial crisis starting the prior year that also sent the stock markets down sharply.
It also includes a provision to allow those still working to take financial hardship-type withdrawals from the TSP and similar programs of up to $100,000 for reasons related to the Coronavirus, without the standard 10 percent tax penalty on in-service withdrawals taken before age 59 1/2. Ordinary taxes still would be due but could be spread over three years and those taking withdrawals could repay them over three years over and above the standard investment limits.
Click here for Coronavirus Supplemental Appropriations Summary_FINAL