A TSA officer wears a mask at the Salt Lake City International Airport on Wednesday. TSA  told employees on Thursday that, for the first time, it will make N95 masks available to front-line employees.

A TSA officer wears a mask at the Salt Lake City International Airport on Wednesday. TSA told employees on Thursday that, for the first time, it will make N95 masks available to front-line employees. Rick Bowmer / AP

House Sends Stimulus Package to Trump, Without Federal Workforce Provisions It Had Pushed

Agencies will receive $340B, helping to boost hiring, telework and office cleaning.

Federal agencies are in for a massive funding boost after the House on Friday passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus package aimed at revitalizing the economy struggling amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, though many federal workforce provisions were left out of the final agreement. 

The measure included $340 billion in emergency spending for agencies across government, helping to increase hiring, office cleaning and telework capacity. House Democrats had pushed for a suite of new benefits for federal employees to be included in the package, but Senate and White House negotiators declined to include most of them. President Trump signed the measure into law on Friday afternoon. 

The departments of Agriculture, Interior, and Health and Human Services are set to receive funding to hire new staff. The Housing and Urban Development Department, Securities and Exchange Commission, and Commodity Futures Trading Commission will have hiring flexibilities to expedite the recruiting process for the duration of the coronavirus emergency. USDA, Interior and HHS, as well as the departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs are in line for appropriations to support overtime for employees working on coronavirus response. The Transportation Security Administration and Bureau of Prisons will each see $100 million for those costs as well as for new personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies for workers. 

TSA told employees on Thursday that, for the first time, it will make the N95 masks recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as most effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19 available to frontline airport screeners. 

VA, FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Marshals Service, Defense Department, Forest Service, HHS and others will also receive tens of millions of dollars to purchase personal protective equipment.

Dozens of agencies across government will soon see millions of dollars to improve their telework capacity, through network expansions and software license purchases.The Office of Personnel Management will receive $12 million to expand telework, including digitizing the usually paper-based retirement application and case management process. The General Services Administration will receive nearly $300 million, most of which will go toward deep cleaning and enhanced screening at federal buildings as well as providing for unanticipated space requirements across government.

HHS will see a total of $140 billion, the largest infusion at any single agency. Most of that money—$127 billion—will go into the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund to reimburse hospitals and health care providers, replenish the strategic national stockpile with equipment such as ventilators, and fund vaccines and therapeutics, among other purposes. DHS is set to receive about $46 billion, most of which will go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund.

The Transportation Department will receive $31 billion, primarily to provide grants to transit providers and for airports to maintain operations during the current plunge in passengers. HUD will see a $17 billion influx for various housing and development programs. VA will receive nearly $20 billion, mostly going toward boosting health care services at its facilities. As of Friday, VA had confirmed 571 COVID-19 cases across its network. The bill will provide $2 billion for veterans to receive private sector care, though the department announced on Wednesday it would freeze new appointments to its reimbursed private care program—expanded under the 2018 Mission Act—to protect veterans from exposure and prevent private hospitals from being overwhelmed.

USDA, the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Peace Corps will receive hundreds of millions of dollars to bring home thousands of employees and volunteers currently stationed overseas.

Congress’ overall $340 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations far exceeded the White House’s request of $46 billion.

Earlier this week, House Democrats put forward their own stimulus plan that would have provided the new perks for the federal workforce. It would have made federal employees required to work during the crisis eligible to receive up to $2,000 in reimbursement for child care costs per dependent child, and required any employee with a telework agreement in place to work remotely through the end of the year. Employees who are directly treating individuals diagnosed with COVID-19, or those with “frequent, unavoidable contact” with the public, including Transportation Security Administration screeners, would have been eligible for hazard pay. The measure would have also ensured employees whose offices are closed, but who also cannot telework, are eligible for paid “weather and safety leave.”

The House Democrats had also included provisions to revoke three Trump-signed executive orders and one memorandum that sought to weaken federal employee unions and hasten the disciplinary process. It would have provided a $25 billion cash injection to the Postal Service and forgiven $11 billion of its public debt. President Trump and Republican lawmakers have criticized Democrats for including provisions they viewed as extraneous to the immediate crisis, but the final deal provided USPS with a new $10 billion line of credit. Several stakeholders vowed to continue to push for additional financial relief for USPS in future measures. 

Federal employee groups and some Democrats have similarly announced their intent to push for hazard pay for feds in any forthcoming coronavirus response measure. Some federal employees could see a minor salary bump during the virus; the measure eliminates most of the normal caps on overtime and bonus pay for those working on response efforts. 

This story has been updated to reflect that Trump signed the bill into law on Friday afternoon