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$2.5 trillion House stimulus includes workforce provisions

The House of Representatives is looking to recharge the flagging American economy with a $2.5 trillion stimulus bill that includes direct payments to individuals and families, support for the health care system's response to the COVID-19 pandemic and targeted relief to idled corporations, provided they adhere to certain conditions about worker treatment.

The bill, which is proceeding separately from a similar though less-expensive package the Trump administration is negotiating in the Senate, also provides for funding for technology responses to the coronavirus outbreak and support for federal workers and contractors.

Workforce and contractors

The Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act would allow federal employees to take advantage of new proposed policies concerning telework, paid leave and childcare subsidies.

The bill also rescinds three controversial workforce orders and a memo that President Donald Trump issued in January that allows the Defense Department to suspend collective bargaining during a national emergency.  

If passed, the legislation would grant federal employees up to $2,000 per child every month if they were required to report to work during the pandemic while tasked with caring for a child or dependent.

The bill would also allow agencies to grant weather and safety leave to employees who couldn’t access their offices but weren’t able to telework. It would issue hazard pay to frontline employees such as transportation security officers who have unavoidable contact with the general public where the risk of transmission is high.

It would also grant hazard pay to those who "provide direct patient care and emergency services to individuals who have contracted coronavirus" and provide workers' compensation to employees who contract the coronavirus, with the presumption that they became infected while working in close contact with the public.

Federal unions such as the American Federation of Government Employees have pushed federal agencies to clarify leave and safety policies for transportation security officers and others on the front lines.

The bill includes language regarding telework that echoes another piece of legislation, the Telework Metrics and Cost Savings Act 2020, which would require agencies to justify their telework policies to Congress and account for any rollbacks, an ongoing issue that unions and employees have raised.

"Maximum telework flexibilities are not currently being implemented across the government," according to the bill, referencing a recent Office of Management and Budget memo that urged agencies to expand employees' ability to work remotely and encourage social distancing.

"This section would require agency leaders to allow telework for all eligible federal employees during the coronavirus pandemic."

The bill would also nullify three workforce orders that weakened union leaders' ability to claim official time during workplace grievance proceedings and access facility space and that sped up the timeline for which agencies can discipline and fire underperforming employees.

Technology spending

The bill also includes a $3 billion injection into the Technology Modernization Fund, the revolving pot of money created to support IT upgrades at federal agencies. The new bill directs TMF funds to projects that "prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus."

Mike Hettinger, a former senior congressional aide who lobbies on behalf of tech firms, said he welcomed the inclusion of Modernizing Government Technology Act money in the stimulus package but wonders if it will make the final bipartisan package.

"If that money is included, Congress would intend for the [TMF] board to move quickly to spend that money to assist in meeting emergency response needs associated with VPN upgrades and other related telework, as opposed to sitting on it for future needs," Hettinger said. "That will require some changes to the way the TMF board has operated in the past, but it can be done."

The bill also includes funding -- perhaps totaling hundreds of millions of dollars -- for agencies looking to expand and support telework, including those with critical citizen-facing missions that are being forced to adapt to life under quarantine.

Reader comments

Mon, Mar 30, 2020

To the last commenter or two: What do you think would happen if the Treasury did NOT inject a bunch of money back into the society and economy? Wait -- we all know we don't need to wait for your two-cents answer. BOTH would implode, that's what. You are being so small here, guys. Thinking small too. THE VAST MAJORITY of the money is going (1) back to taxpayers so they can keep buying needed goods despite a huge wave of no paychecks hitting the economy, and the individual family out there and (2) to agencies and departments that have bigger demands being made on them right now. Next a LOT of money will have to go to states and localities, to keep them going. IT IS MUCH CHEAPER TO BORROW NOW and protect and support the basic structures of our society, governments and companies and homeowners and all of this. Than to try to let it go all to hell as you cheap and I would say not too intelligent folks saying one party or the other is doing small-minded things with some of the money. BOTH PARTIES are doing that with relatively LITTLE of the money. There is money in here for Republicans and others as well. It is not ideal. But most of it is GOOD and NECESSARY to prevent another 1929 - 1930s Great Depression collapse. How smart are you guys if you can't see that--with businesses shutting down as they got to for this disease temporarily? It is hard to understand the level of ideology eating up peoples minds sometimes.

Thu, Mar 26, 2020

The house will not limit unrelated funding to the bill, in fact, look for Pelosi to expand even more. It's a disgrace to government, politics and the United States of America!

Wed, Mar 25, 2020

Pelosi, Schumer, Cortez, Paul and others do not deserve to be re-elected again. Hopefully the voters have noticed their total incompetence in supposedly running this country. For the other idiots (representatives) that cashed in their stocks see how fast they can spend the proceeds during their time in prison which hopefully will be very soon. This is why term limits are sorely needed.

Wed, Mar 25, 2020

Dems are using the stimulus bill as a political weapon. $35 million for the Kennedy Center? Really? Resending Workforce orders? $5 billion slush funds for Congress? How is that Corona Virus related? Dems couldn't get their way on issues, so they are holding the country and our economic recovery hostage by crafting a bill to push their agenda.

Tue, Mar 24, 2020

Yes stick to the current issues related to the Corona virus not the Dems pet projects that have nothing to do with this.

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