Congress’s return from a two-week recess brings the potential for action on a further pandemic relief bill that could contain important provisions for federal employees, but enacting such a measure will require political leaders to work through a host of differences in a short time.
Congress plans to work for three weeks at most before recessing again until after Labor Day, adding urgency to the bid to enact another in a series of major relief bills, now nearly three months after the prior ones passed in quick succession.
Starting with the House – it had passed a bill in mid-May providing for a “hazardous duty differential” of $13 an hour, up to $10,000 maximum for the year, plus child care subsidies for workers, including federal employees, who have remained on the job in front-line positions; a presumption that employees in such positions who contract the virus are eligible for Federal Employees Compensation Act benefits; and a presumption that employees eligible for telework should remain in that status until certain standards are met, among other provisions.
The Senate set that aside as the pandemic situation was improving at the time, but pressure to act has grown since then along with the resurgence of infections and deaths, with Republican leaders expected to soon release their specific proposals.
One short-term concern is the threat of furloughs for more than 13,000 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services employees, about three-fourths of that agency, set to begin August 3. The largely self-funding agency has said it needs $1.2 billion to make up for the loss of application fees and that without relief furloughs would last at least through August and likely longer.
Proposals have been made in Congress to provide the funding, which could be attached to a larger support measure. However, approval is far from guaranteed because of potential moves to include policy changes such as an increase in those fees and restrictions on how the money could be used.
Other potential hangups include proposals for money for the U.S. Postal Service; tax cuts; shielding employers from liability claims by recalled employees; and funding unemployment benefits, assistance to employers and state and local governments, and reimbursing government contractors for the costs of paying their employees kept out of the federal buildings where they normally work; and more.
Also planned is passage by both chambers of the annual DoD authorization bill (S-4049 and HR-6395), with an eye to working out the differences during the August recess and finalizing it in September.
The House’s version of the DoD spending bill would extend the paid parental leave authority that starts in October for most federal agencies to some agencies and occupations that were inadvertently excluded, while both that bill and the Senate version would make other mostly minor changes to personnel policies at DoD.
The House further plans to vote on some of the regular spending bills for the fiscal year that starts October 1. (The general government measure – HR-7668, which among other things is the annual vehicle for a federal pay raise for the upcoming year, will have to wait until after the first round of scheduled votes.)
There is little likelihood that many, if any, of the bills will reach final enactment before then, and a temporary funding extension until after the elections is widely expected.