By Adam Andrzejewski
The U.S. House version of the “American Rescue Plan Act of 2021” – a $1.9 trillion emergency aid package to help America recover from the coronavirus pandemic has an extra perk for federal workers: Enhanced paid time off if your child is enrolled in a school that isn’t back to full-time, in-classroom instruction.
Critics call it a personal bailout for bureaucrats. It is funded through a new $570 million family leave account exclusively for federal workers.
While millions of parents struggle to work from home with kids who are enrolled in shuttered or partially shuttered schools, and millions more left the workforce or lost jobs to care for their at-home children, evidently parents in the federal bureaucracy need their own, personal Covid-19 bailout.
Buried on page 305 of the House bill released late last Friday night (included after the bailout details for states and localities), is a new Treasury Department fund called the “Emergency Federal Employee Leave Fund.”
$570 million in the new fund is available through September 30. Federal employees caring for others due to Covid-19 are eligible for paid leave. Among those eligible are those who are “unable to work” because they are caring for school-aged children not physically in school full time “due to Covid-19 precautions[.]”
The new Fund allows a federal employee “caring for a son or daughter” to qualify for the paid leave, specifically:
“if the school or place of care of the son or daughter has been closed, if the school of such son or daughter requires or makes optional a virtual learning instruction model or requires or makes optional a hybrid of in-person and virtual learning instruction models, or the child care provider of such son or daughter is unavailable, due to Covid-19 precautions;”
Under the bill as currently drafted, full-time federal employees can take up to 600 hours in paid leave until September 30, up to $35 an hour and $1,400 a week. That’s 15 weeks for a 40-hour employee. Part-time and “seasonal” employees are eligible, too, with equivalent hours established by their agency.
Federal employees currently have up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. (A law passed in 2019, allows most federal employees – what the sponsors report is 2.1 million federal workers – up to 12 weeks of paid leave for the birth, foster placement or adoption of a new child.)
And the drafting seems very sloppy – notice how the bill sets no age limit for the kids who are home from school?
An open question is whether parents of college-aged children could take paid time off? Certainly, some colleges are virtual and there is no definition of son or daughter in the bill and no age parameters.
Even if a federal employee’s child could be in school five days a week, if the school “makes optional” virtual or hybrid schooling, it appears the parent can keep the son or daughter at home and still qualify for paid-time off under the bill.
For federal employees who have their kids in private schools that are open, like some D.C.-area Catholic and private schools, no taxpayer-funded paid time off is available under the bill.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) said last Friday (3:26 mark) that the Covid-19 relief legislation expands emergency leave for federal and postal workers, “so that they don’t have to choose between their jobs or caring for loved ones who get infected with coronavirus.”
But that’s disingenuous.
The provision in the bill for federal parents with kids in schools isn’t about those “infected with coronavirus.” It’s about kids at home because schools won’t open due to Covid-19, Covid-19 fears, or union pressure, or, just maybe, all of the above.