House Oversight Leaders Seek Childcare Payments and Other Help for Feds in Next COVID-19 Relief Bill

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In a letter to House leadership, Democrats unveil a laundry list of legislative proposals to assist federal employees and contractors during the coronavirus pandemic.

Leaders of the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Monday proposed a laundry list of initiatives aimed at helping federal workers and contractors during the coronavirus outbreak, with the aim of including them in the next round of legislation responding to the crisis.

Federal employees and contractors need additional assistance to make it through the COVID-19 pandemic while fulfilling their agencies’ missions, said Committee Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., in a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“During the coronavirus pandemic, many civil servants and contractors find themselves at the forefront of combatting the virus,” Maloney and Connolly wrote. “At the same time, they are struggling, like the rest of the world, to adjust to difficult new family and financial circumstances.”

As lawmakers begin negotiations on so-called Phase 4 legislation to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, Connolly and Maloney provided a list of priorities for potential inclusion in the new bill. Congress was expected to take up the bill later this month, but on Monday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., suggested lawmakers may not return to Washington until next month.

Under Maloney and Connolly’s plan, the federal government would reimburse federal workers up to $2,000 per month per child in child care and other dependent care costs in cases where employees are still required to report to their offices. The oversight leaders' proposal also would “codify” the availability of weather and safety leave for federal employees during the outbreak.

“This proposal would require federal agencies to provide leave to employees, without loss or reduction in pay, in cases in which the employees are prevented from performing at duty stations due to coronavirus activities, unless the employees serve a national security role or are otherwise explicitly exempted from telework eligibility,” the lawmakers wrote.

The plan also would specify that for the duration of the pandemic, federal employees on telework agreements may work remotely while caring for children or ill family members. Although federal agencies have been encouraged to consider waiving the rules against teleworking with a child at home, it is not a requirement, and some agencies have merely made duty shifts more flexible to account for time lost caring for a dependent. The lawmakers also proposed banning “blanket agency prohibitions” on telework after the crisis is over, arguing that such actions made agencies less prepared to deploy widespread telework in the wake of the pandemic.

Under the proposal, federal employees also would be able to make changes to their health insurance under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program when a public health emergency is declared, and it would extend the age cap for health, dental and vision insurance by one year in cases where a child or dependent is at risk of aging out of their parent or guardian’s FEHBP coverage.

For federal contractors, the proposal would mandate that agencies allow them to telework if their duties can be conducted remotely, noting that many contractors have not received the same leeway as federal employees to work remotely.

“Despite Office of Management and Budget guidance urging agencies to maximize the use of telework for all federal contractors, many agencies still require contractors to report to their offices to perform work that can be done remotely,” Maloney and Connolly wrote. “This mandate would require agencies to provide periodic reports to Congress regarding instances in which the agencies deny contractor requests for telework and to justify such denials.”

The plan also would direct agencies to utilize advance and accelerated payments to small business contractors to ensure companies do not run into cash flow problems, and ensure that contractors are not subject to adverse performance ratings due to coronavirus-related disruptions.

“This mandate would require agencies to provide periodic reports to Congress regarding instances in which the agencies deny contractor requests for telework and to justify such denials,” the lawmakers wrote.

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