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Acquisition

Senate votes to extend pandemic benefits for contractors

The Senate has voted to extend pandemic relief authorities to government contractors for paid leave if they are unable to work through the end of the fiscal year as part of an amendment to the Biden administration's $1.9 trillion stimulus package.

The amendment, if adopted, would extend reimbursement authorities of Section 3610 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which allows federal contractors to pay employees who couldn't work due to the pandemic through Sept. 30. Those benefits expire March 31.

The 93-6 vote on the amendment March 6 comes after defense industry groups and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) wrote Senate leaders asking for the extension in February, citing it as a necessary tool to cope with shutdowns, quarantines, and social distancing as anti-COVID-19 measures.

"We are pleased that the Senate passed this bipartisan legislation to provide much-needed stability for personnel who serve a key role in protecting our national security missions and other vital programs," Rubio and Warner said in a joint statement.

The vote on the final version of the American Rescue Act in the Senate was 50-49, with all Democrats voting in support of the bill and all Republicans voting against. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) missed the vote because he was home attending a funeral.

The measure now returns to the House of Representatives for a final vote before it can go to the president for his signature.

Trade groups representing government contractors are lauding the move as "critical" to national security. The measure doesn’t appropriate money for the purpose of such payment – it simply authorizes the extension of the spending authority through the close of fiscal year 2021.

"Extending 3610 and safeguarding the defense industrial base workforce is critical to our national security today and, more importantly, into the future," Hawk Carlisle, the National Defense Industry Association's president and CEO in a statement.

The Professional Services Council's president and CEO David Berteau said in advance of the vote that the extension, if enacted, would "help the federal government continue to access the highly skilled, cleared and trusted contractor workforce needed to meet mission needs."

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