Fedweek

Only a week after a new federal employee leave fund was enacted into law, misunderstanding about the fund is circulating in the federal workplace and beyond, possibly aided by how opponents of the fund have been characterizing it.

The “American Rescue Plan” pandemic relief and economic stimulus law creates a $570 million fund from which agencies could draw to pay up to 600 hours — 15 work weeks — of additional leave for employees who cannot work because they are: in quarantine or are ill with COVID; caring for a child whose school or place of care has been closed or is conducting virtual learning; or caring for a family member incapable of self-care whose care provider is unavailable due to COVID.

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That leave would be paid at the employee’s regular rate of pay, with a cap of $2,800 biweekly; for part-time employees, it would be prorated according to their working schedule.

However, assertions are circulating on social media and elsewhere that all federal employees are in line for additional payments, assertions that some federal employees seem to be believing. For example, in a House speech, Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said it would “give federal employees an extra $21,000” — a figure apparently arrived at by multiplying the $1,400 weekly maximum by the maximum 15 weeks — and later made similar remarks on television.

While Congress dropped a requirement of the original version that would have required employees to use up all of their sick leave before being eligible for leave under the fund, it still is not a general entitlement; the measure as enacted specifically states that employees must be “unable to work” due to one of the listed reasons.

Federal unions have said that some federal workers are in that situation, although adding that it is because they have used up the sick leave and other leave available to them. It is uncertain how many employees are in that situation. Both the unions and the congressional sponsors speak of the fund as more of a backstop for employees in a dire situation—it is formally called the “emergency federal employee leave fund”—than as an authority to be used widely.

Guidance from OPM, and then from individual agencies, is likely in the near future addressing specific considerations for eligibility.

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