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Senate Passes Additional COVID-19 Relief

Today the Senate passed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (H.R. 1319) by a vote of 50-49 following its passage last week in the House of Representatives.

For letter carriers, the bill preserves House-passed language that establishes an Emergency Federal Employee Leave Fund for federal and postal employees who must quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19, care for a family member/dependent with COVID-19, receive a vaccine, or care for a child with a closed school until Sept. 30, 2021. The $570 million fund to pay for the leave, which will provide for 600 hours of paid leave for each full-time employee, or a proportional equivalent for part-time employees at a capped rate of $35 per hour and no more than $1,400 a week. As letter carriers will recall, the Families First COVID-19 Relief Act (FFCRA) provided letter carriers paid emergency sick leave, but that program expired at the end of December and was limited to emergency COVID-19 leave.

In addition, prior to passage of the bill, NALC successfully lobbied for inclusion of workers’ compensation language that deems a positive COVID-19 diagnosis for postal (and federal) employees as work-related. The presumption would authorize benefits such as medical, disability and survivor benefits for workers who contracted COVID-19 in the three-year period beginning Jan. 27, 2020, and ending Jan. 27, 2023. It is important to note that due to the 10-year constraints of the budget reconciliation process and authorization of benefits, there will likely be a small universe of claims that outlast the 10-year period that will need to be addressed in the future. It is also important to note that the language does not apply to teleworkers.

“Inclusion of these two key provisions for letter carriers marks a significant victory in recognizing and supporting letter carriers, who are on the front lines of the pandemic,” said NALC President Rolando.

In addition to these key victories, the $1.9 trillion Senate-passed measure included House-passed provisions with a few modifications:

Unfortunately, the Senate measure did not include an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour that was included in the House-passed legislation. The Senate parliamentarian ruled that its inclusion would violate the rules of reconciliation.

Due to the differences between the House and Senate-passed measures, the relief package will go back to the House for a vote this week. NALC will keep letter carriers posted on the final package.