Biden COVID-Relief Plan Offers More Leave for Frontline Feds
Although the plan calls for private sector employers to provide hazard pay to essential workers, it is unclear whether the president-elect would call on federal agencies to do the same.
President-elect Biden on Thursday unveiled his $1.9 trillion economic and coronavirus relief package, which would provide federal employees with additional access to paid leave.
The plan renews two paid leave programs initially enacted as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act last March. The first of these programs provides up to two weeks of paid sick leave at full pay, if an employee is unable to work due to a self-isolation order from the government or their health care provider, or is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, capped at $1,400 per week.
It also provides a 10-week bank of partial paid leave for employees unable to work due to the need to care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed due to the pandemic, or if they must care for a dependent with COVID-19 symptoms. These programs were not renewed as part of the omnibus spending bill signed into law last month.
Under Biden’s plan, each of these programs would be renewed and expanded to apply to all federal workers. The partial paid leave program would grow to offer up to 14 weeks rather than 10. Under Biden's plan, the paid leave programs would be available until Sept. 30.
“While the December down payment extended the Families First employer tax credits through March 2021, it did not renew the requirement that employers provide leave,” a summary of the plan stated. “[This] measure will provide paid leave protections to approximately 2 million Americans who work for the federal government.”
If enacted, this extra leave would complement a provision of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which became law last month, increasing the cap on the amount of unused annual paid leave that federal workers could carry into 2021 by 25%. According to guidance from the Office of Personnel Management, some federal employees directly working on COVID-19 response efforts could see all of their unused leave from 2020 carried over into this year. Those employees also would have longer to use the leave, and if they exit federal service, it would be included in lump sum payments for unused paid leave.
Biden’s COVID-relief plan also calls on private sector employers to provide hazard pay to essential frontline employers, and to apply it retroactively to the start of the pandemic.
“Essential workers—who are disproportionately Black, Latino, and Asian American and Pacific Islander—have risked their lives to stock shelves, harvest crops, and care for the sick during this crisis,” the summary states. “They have kept the country running even through the darkest days of the pandemic . . . The president-elect believes these employers have a duty to do right by their frontline essential workers and acknowledge their sacrifices with generous back hazard pay for the risks they took across 2020 and up to today.”
House Democrats included a provision in the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act that would have instructed agencies to provide hazard pay to essential federal employees unable to work remotely during the pandemic, but that bill stalled in the Senate. The Biden transition team did not respond to a request for comment about whether the president-elect’s COVID-relief plan would grant essential federal workers hazard pay alongside their private sector counterparts.