Senate Democrats have unveiled a legislative proposal that would offer premium pay to federal employees who are “essential frontline employees” working amidst the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The proposal is dubbed the COVID-19 Heroes Fund and would provide premium pay to frontline workers as well as offer incentives to promote recruitment for battling the coronavirus in the coming months.
The summary document outlining the proposal contains a section specifically on the benefits that the lawmakers are proposing to assist certain federal workers:
Our proposal would ensure all federal government essential frontline employees receive the same $25,000 premium pay benefit provided to other essential workers.
- Coverage should be expansive to capture all federal employees with public-facing positions. This includes Title 5 employees and employees of all other federal personnel systems (e.g., employees of the Postal Service, TSA, VA, FAA, District of Columbia, and federally-funded Indian programs).
- The benefit would be limited to frontline and public-facing positions – employees who are not teleworking from their homes.
A footnote for this section on federal employees reads, “Certain federal workers are entitled under current law to a maximum 25 percent hazard premium pay for exposure to hazardous substances, including virulent biologicals. However, President Trump has failed to activate this policy for the federal workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
There are two key components to the proposal, one of which is the $25,000 premium pay mentioned above. Regarding these two items, the proposal states:
A $25,000 pandemic premium pay increase for essential frontline workers, equivalent to a raise of an additional $13 per hour from the start of the public health emergency until December 31, 2020.
A $15,000 recruitment incentive for health and home care workers and first responders to attract and secure the workforce needed to fight the public health crisis.
In a statement about the legislative proposal, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said:
Thousands of workers report to the frontlines of our nation’s pandemic response each and every day, placing themselves squarely in harm’s way to serve the needs of other. Senate Democrats’ proposed ‘Heroes Fund’ would provide premium pay to these essential workers — the doctors and nurses, grocery store workers, transit workers, and more who are central to fighting this crisis — and would establish an incentive system to retain and recruit the workforce needed for the long months to come.
Hazard Pay Lawsuit Filed
AFGE is already pushing for hazard pay for federal employees impacted by the coronavirus even before Congress has been discussing this legislative proposal.
A class action lawsuit filed last week seeks hazard pay for federal workers who were exposed to the coronavirus, arguing that the virus would “clearly qualify as a hazard.”
Fourth Coronavirus Stimulus Bill?
After passing a massive third stimulus bill of just over $2 trillion, Congress has already said more spending is needed.
Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) predicted that there will be a fourth spending bill soon. What is less clear at the moment is what such a bill might contain.
“[It] [a fourth stimulus bill] should be more a targeted response to what we got wrong and what we didn’t do enough for — and at the top of the list there would have to be the health care part of it,” said McConnell.
A proposal introduced by Congressman Bill Huizenga (R-MI) would offer relief to frontline workers, but takes a different approach than the one that Senator Democrats have suggested.
Huizenga’s bill, known as The Helping Emergency Responders Overcome Emergency Situations (HEROES) Act (H.R. 6433), would provide a four month federal income tax holiday for medical professionals and first responders, in counties with at least one positive COVID-19 patient.
Types of workers included under the bill would be law enforcement officers, corrections officers, firefighters, EMT’s, paramedics, pharmacists, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, hospital and licensed medical facility support staff, and senior care facility staff during the coronavirus outbreak.
Presumably, federal workers in these positions would be eligible for the tax break as well if the legislation were to be enacted.
The Senate Democrats said that their proposal is food for thought as discussion of a fourth stimulus bill continues. The proposal stated, “As the Congress looks at a potential fourth COVID-19 bill, the following proposal is meant for consideration by Members of Congress, key stakeholders, and the American people.”
While the approaches to another round of spending on the coronavirus vary among lawmakers, there does seem to be bipartisan agreement that an additional spending bill is warranted and likely to come in the not too distant future.
A copy of the summary document released by the Senate Democrats with information about their proposal is included below.