|House Votes on Pared Down Coronavirus Relief Bill as Negotiations Continue|
SUMMARY: In an effort to reach a compromise on the next coronavirus relief bill, the House passed a trimmed Heroes Act, H.R. 925, which contains several provisions protecting federal employees.
In an effort to reach an agreement on the next coronavirus relief bill, the House passed a smaller version of the HEROES Act, H.R. 6800, which passed in May. The new bill, H.R. 925, continues to include several NTEU-backed provisions, including:
• Continued telework for all eligible federal employees throughout the pandemic, plus incentives for agencies to expand their telework programs.
• Allowing federal first responders to stay in their current law enforcement retirement plans even if they are unable to meet the physical requirements of their position due to exposure to coronavirus and are moved to other civil service jobs.
• A presumption that federal employees who work with the public and are diagnosed with COVID-19 contracted it in the workplace, for workers’ compensation purposes.
• Eliminating out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 treatment under the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program.
• Extending the emergency leave provisions in the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act to all federal employees.
In addition, the bill provides $350 million to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to ensure continued agriculture quality inspections by CBP Agriculture Specialists of agricultural products in order to keep pests and diseases from entering the U.S. and $359 million for the IRS for FY 2021 to process another round of economic impact payments and prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus, including for costs associated with the extended filing season.
Unfortunately, provisions providing premium pay to federal employees were not included in the smaller bill, likely due to concerns Republicans raised about the cost. This provision would have provided $13 per hour, up to a maximum $10,000 for those whose basic pay is less than $200,000 and who have regular or routine contact with the public or those who must report to a worksite where social distancing is not possible and other preventative measures are not available.
Currently there is a huge cost difference between the relief bills pushed by Congressional Democrats and Republican leaders, with the initial House bill costing $3.4 trillion and the White House seeking to hold the cost to $1.5 trillion with some Senate Republicans pushing for an even lower amount. The new House bill would cost approximately $2.2 trillion.
In related news, the House yesterday also passed the Chai Suthammanont Remembrance Act of 2020 (H.R. 7340), introduced by Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA), which would require each federal agency to publish online a plan to reopen a federal office building at least 30 days prior to the return of federal employees. The online plan would be required to include:
· Data on the personal protective equipment (PPE) the agency will provide to employees,
· Additional cleaning protocols to be implemented by the agency,
· Efforts to ensure social distancing,
· Efforts to protect employees who work outside of federal office buildings (such as auditors or inspectors),
· Safety and health requirements for visitors to federal facilities,
· Contingency options for those at high-risk of contracting the coronavirus, and
· Efforts to ensure continuity of agency operations, including contingency plans should there be a surge in coronavirus cases.
Senators Warner (D-VA), Kaine, (D-VA), Cardin (D-MD), Van Hollen (D-MD), and Brown (D-OH) also introduced a companion bill in the Senate yesterday.
NTEU will continue to work with our allies on Capitol Hill and fight to protect your health and safety during this pandemic as you continue to work in service to the American people. We will keep you posted on future developments.
Anthony M. Reardon