Congress returns next week from a three-week break with the Biden administration’s proposal for spending on infrastructure among its top priorities, a measure that could be used as a vehicle for expanding paid leave for federal employees among other workers.
As the proposal is turned into specific language, Congress should “remove hidden barriers to workforce participation caused by the inadequacy of our caring infrastructure,” according to Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., chair of the Ways and Means Committee. Among provisions he favors, he said in a letter to committee members, are giving “veery worker the right to paid family and medical leave, whether it’s because they’ve just welcomed a new child into their family, they have a loved one in need of care, or they are dealing with their own medical issue.”
Under a law that took effect last October, federal employees outside the Postal Service can take up to 12 weeks of paid leave within 12 months after the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child. That is done by converting into paid leave some or all of the 12 weeks within a 12-month period of unpaid leave allowed under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
However, leave available under that law for other than parental purposes—such as for personal or family medical needs—remains unpaid. Democratic leaders of the House Oversight and Reform Committee have proposed allowing a similar conversion of FMLA leave for the other purposes, a plan that the infrastructure bill in effect could incorporate.
Also to be on the congressional agenda ahead will be the budget for the fiscal year that starts in October and along with it decisions on agency spending levels, employment levels, potential changes in benefits policies, and a proposal for a 2022 federal employee raise. The figure indicated by the underlying federal pay law is 2.7 percent, but that law is followed only in some years; federal employee organizations and some congressional Democrats have been pushing for 3.2 percent.
The Biden administration has not released even a preliminary version of the annual White House budget proposal, the so-called “skinny” budget that will not necessarily address pay and other federal employment issues. The comprehensive budget proposal would come still later, starting a round of hearings and other action that normally is well underway by this point in the year.
Other topics likely ahead for Congress’s attention include possible changes to federal workplace policies as pandemic-related conditions ease, and the release of full results of last year’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, which included questions about telework and workplace safety issues.