Congress

$2T Senate rescue bill passes with some workforce protections, but absent measures sought by the House

By Orhan Cam Royalty-free stock photo ID: 546416560 United States Capitol Building in Washington DC USA

The $2 trillion pandemic rescue bill passed by a vote of 96-0 late March 25 in the Senate includes protections for federal facilities and support for telework, but not a raft of federal workforce policies included in a House bill.

The Senate bill was primarily focused on expanding unemployment insurance and bailing out corporate sectors amid the economic jolt of shutting down much of America to shelter from the coronavirus pandemic. But the bill also grants agencies funding to cover remote work capabilities, increase facility safety and other measures.

The Social Security Administration will receive $300 million to "prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus," including overtime and expanding telework as the result of office closures and other administrative disruptions.

The General Services Administration is getting a $275 million bump to support enhanced security screening and cleaning at federal facilities. Frontline workers at the Department of Homeland Security are getting $178 million for personal protective equipment -- something of a scarce commodity in the nation's health care system.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development received an allotted $35 million that would cover salaries and other expenses, including “supporting the Department’s workforce in a telework environment.” The Office of Personnel Management was likewise given $12.1 million to expand its telework operations, such as digitizing the processing of retirement and other case claims.

HUD, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission were also given temporary hiring authorities to recruit and employ needed candidates for contract and temporary appointments positions during the duration of the coronavirus emergency.

Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said the union "understands that federal agencies cannot just close their doors, so it essential that the government do everything possible to protect those employees who are protecting us all."

NTEU and the American Federation of Government Employees urged the House to pass the Senate bill.

However, the bill did not include provisions in a bill drafted by House Democrats to supply hazard pay to federal employees in at-risk jobs and rescind three Trump administration executive orders that rolled back certain union prerogatives and made it easier to fire and discipline federal employees. The bill also omitted a provision giving a $2,000 per month dependent care credit to federal employees who were required to report for work.

"This bill falls short in several ways," noted AFGE National President Everett Kelley. Both union leaders said in statements that they hoped to pick up some of these issues with Congress in subsequent legislation.

About the Author

Lia Russell is a former staff writer and associate editor at FCW.

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