Fedweek

New House Virus Relief Bill Backs Federal Employee Benefits Changes, but Prospects Uncertain

A Coronavirus relief bill newly offered by House Democratic leaders contains numerous changes in federal benefits and workplace policies including mandating that agencies put all employees eligible to telework in that status and keep them there until they provide a justification for returning them to their regular workplaces.

While far more federal employees than normal have been working remotely for nearly two months, there has continued to be controversy over agencies keeping at their official duty stations some employees whose jobs are telework-eligible.

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The measure further would create a “hazardous duty differential” of $13 an hour, up to $10,000 maximum for the year, for federal employees who have remained at their regular workplaces in positions that require routine contact with the public or in which social distancing and other preventive steps are not possible. That is also a reaction to the uneven payment of hazardous duty pay across agencies – hazard pay can can be worth up to 25 percent of salary.

The bill also provides money for and child care subsidies for front-line employees in general; while the measure does not specify that federal employees in such positions would be eligible, previous statements from sponsors of such provisions have said they would be.

Other provisions would:

* Extend 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. It also would waive the normal time limits for returning to those accounts any distributions already taken for either year.

* Create a presumption that employees in medical or other front-line positions who contract the virus are eligible for Federal Employees Compensation Act benefits.

* Provide the Postal Service with $25 billion in emergency funding.

While the House could vote to approve the bill within days, prospects in the Senate are questionable. Areas of disagreement include postal funding, the overall level of spending and the stated intent of Senate Republicans to create new liability protections for businesses.

The new House bill though does not contain language backed by some Democrats, which the administration almost certainly would have opposed, to repeal the administration’s three 2018 executive orders on union and disciplinary matters.

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FERS Retirement Guide 2020