House Democrats have unveiled a massive new spending bill intended to fight the COVID-19 coronavirus which contains a number of provisions for federal employees and agencies.
Known as the Heroes Act (H.R. 6800), the size of this new bill tops all of the other individual bills passed by Congress to date in the name of the coronavirus, checking in at a little over $3 trillion.
Here are some of the provisions likely to be of most interest to federal workers:
Agency leaders would be required to allow telework for all eligible federal employees and contractor personnel during the coronavirus pandemic. The provisions would require agencies to expand telework by creating incentives to increase its use and disincentives to reducing it.
Although not specific to federal employees since private sector workers are also eligible, the bill creates a Heroes Fund that would pay essential workers $13 per hour premium pay on top of regular wages. Essential workers are eligible for up to $10,000 (“highly compensated” essential workers earning above $200,000, up to $5,000) for work performed from January 27, 2020 until 60 days after the last day of the COVID–19 pandemic ends. If an essential worker develops symptoms of COVID-19 and dies, the worker’s next of kin receives the remainder of the premium pay as a lump sum.
“Essential work” (1) is performed during the COVID–19 Public Health Emergency, (2) is not performed while teleworking, (3) involves regular interaction with others or items handled by others, and (4) is work in any of the 33 enumerated areas of work (e.g., health care, first responders, grocery stores, transportation, etc.)
The Office of Personnel Management would determine which federal employees qualify for hazard pay.
Retirement for Certain Federal Employees
This section would allow federal first responders to stay in their current retirement plans if they are unable to meet the physical requirements of their position due to exposure to the coronavirus and are moved to other jobs in the civil service as a result.
Workers Compensation for Certain Federal Employees Who Contract the Coronavirus
This section would create a presumption that the coronavirus was contracted in the workplace for employees whose duties require substantial contact with the public.
Postal Service Bailout
Although far less than what the Postal Service has gone on the record as saying it needs, the bill would provide $25 billion for revenue forgone due to the coronavirus.
That money comes with a condition though. The text of the bill says that the Postal Service “shall prioritize the purchase of, and make available to all Postal Service employees and facilities, personal protective equipment, including gloves, masks, and sanitizers, and shall conduct additional cleaning and sanitizing of Postal Service facilities and delivery vehicles.”
More Stimulus Payments
The bill would pay out anther round of $1,200 stimulus payments for individuals who earn up to $75,000, and qualified dependents would receive $500, up to $6,000 per household. The income limits are the same as the ones under the CARES Act.
One change in the Heroes Act over the CARES Act: it stipulates that payments must be delivered automatically to individuals receiving government benefits, including Social Security, Supplemental Security Income and veterans. This wasn’t clearly spelled out in the CARES Act. This was, however, added retroactively so these individuals ultimately were included in the previous stimulus payments.
The document below contains a detailed summary of the various sections of the Heroes Act as proposed.