Fedweek

Bill with Federal Employee Benefits Provisions Passes House, Stalls in Senate Laurel, MD - May 15 2020: Coastal Sunbelt Produce plant supporting the Farmers to Families Food Box Program delivering American grown fresh fruit and fresh vegetable boxes to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other non-profits serving Americans in need. USDA photo by Meghan Rodgers.

The House has passed the latest in a series of pandemic relief measures (HR-6800), one containing numerous provisions of direct interest to federal employees, but the Senate has set it aside, likely for several weeks at least and the White House has threatened a veto.

It also appears that if and when the Senate does act, it would craft its own version that would differ in many ways and the two bills would then have to be reconciled and go through further voting—in contrast to the practice up to now of Congress reaching an agreement first and then bringing out relief measures for prompt, largely formal votes.

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Provisions in the House bill include: generally requiring telework by all employees who are eligible unless the agency can justify to Congress why they are at their regular duty stations; a presumption that employees in medical or other front-line positions who contract the virus are eligible for Federal Employees Compensation Act benefits; allowing employees under special retirement provisions for law enforcement, firefighting and air traffic control to remain under those rules if they no longer are able to perform such duties due to having contracted the virus; and extending to 2019 a previously enacted waiver for 2020 of a requirement that retirees age 72 and above must take certain minimum distributions from retirement savings programs such as the TSP.

The measure also would include federal employees in general provisions providing for a $13 per hour hazardous duty pay allowance and child care subsidies for front-line employees nationwide who meet certain qualifications; and would provide $25 billion in emergency funding for the Postal Service, among other provisions.

The veto threat did not reference any of the federal employee-related provisions except funding for the Postal Service, which it said the administration would not support without “much-needed long-term reforms.” It is uncertain how Senate Republican leaders would approach the other federal workplace-related provisions in any version they write.

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