Fedweek

Washington - Aug 4 2020: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin walks through the Capitol Rotunda on his way to the office of US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (not pictured) to continue negotiations over a new relief bill after federal unemployment benefits for tens of millions of Americans expired.

As political leaders continue to struggle to produce another pandemic relief bill, potential language directly affecting federal employee benefits and workplace issues have been largely outside the public discussion.

The focus has been mainly on renewing unemployment benefits, protecting people from evictions and various forms of relief to individuals, businesses and state and local governments. However, deep differences remain between a Democratic-sponsored bill that passed the House in May calling for about $3 trillion in new spending and a Senate Republican-sponsored bill offered last week of a third of that amount—which itself is considered too high by some Republicans there.

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With a boost in unemployment benefits already having expired, there meanwhile is heavy pressure to reach a decision quickly. Congress still hopes to recess at the end of this week through Labor Day and then work only through September before recessing again until mid-November. The current effort is considered the last likely action on pandemic relief at least until after the elections.

Unemployment benefits have not been an issue for the federal workforce in general—unlike in the private sector—but there is a job security related concern at one agency, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. That agency has said it will need to furlough some 13,400 of its 19,000 employees starting in September if it does not receive a $1.2 billion budget supplement.

A consensus to provide the money seems to be emerging, although the administration and Senate Republicans want it to be only in the form of a loan to be repaid through raising the fees that fund almost all of the agency’s budget.

Meanwhile, there has been little sign of consideration of the numerous federal workforce provisions the House also included in its bill, including hazardous duty pay for frontline workers, a presumption of their eligibility for FECA benefits if infected, requirements to maintain teleworking until certain standards are met, and more.

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