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Biden’s COVID bill offers up to $21K in paid leave to federal workers whose kids are at home due to school closures

A paid leave perk buried deep in President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package offers to pay federal government employees to stay home if at least one of their children is in attendance at a school that has not returned to full-time in-person operation.

The provision, exclusive to federal workers, is sure to draw ire from conservatives as the albatross 591-page document known as the “American Rescue Plan Act of 2021” advances through Congress. The bill has been roundly criticized by Republicans as wasteful and filled with “bailouts, pork, and unrelated policy changes” since its introduction in the House last Friday.

The measure is supported by the “Emergency Federal Employee Leave Fund,” which is outlined on page 305 of the House version of the bill. Under the new legislation, $570 million set to be deposited into the fund is designed to assist federal workers caring for themselves or others “unable to work” due of the pandemic.

Among those eligible for the enhanced paid leave are those federal workers who are “caring for a son or daughter” out of school due to COVID-19 precautions.

What’s more is that the school doesn’t need to be completely closed to in-person instruction in order for the worker to receive the paid leave benefit. Rather, the school merely needs to “make optional” any type of instruction other than full-time, in person instruction. Here’s what the bill’s text says, specifically:

Amounts in the Fund shall be available for payment to an agency for the use of paid leave by any employee of the agency who is unable to work because the employee … is caring for a son or daughter of such employee 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.

Forbes senior contributor Adam Andrzejewski noted that critics are calling the measure “a personal bailout for bureaucrats.”

He added that “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.”

A quick calculation shows that federal employees can collect up to $21,000 in paid leave under the proposed measure. Not bad for sitting at home in your pajamas.

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Republicans slam Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus bill

As President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package advances through Congress, Republicans are slamming the bill, accusing Democrats of stuffing it with wasteful pork and other progressive priorities not related to the coronavirus.

“The partisan bill Democrats are preparing is stuffed with non-COVID-related liberal goals and more band-aid policies as if the country were going to stay shut down another year,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted Monday. “We need 2021 to be different than 2020. Congress should focus on smart policies to help that happen.”

House Democrats introduced their 591-page bill coronavirus bill last Friday, which contains $1,400 stimulus checks and various other pandemic-related relief measures including expanded unemployment benefits and business loans. But Republicans say other provisions of the bill are problematic and have nothing to do with economic relief.

For instance, included in the bill is a federal minimum wage increase to $15 by 2025 that would fulfill a campaign promise from President Biden but is not directly tied to coronavirus relief. Other provisions include payouts to “socially disadvantaged” farmers, hundreds of millions of dollars for the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment of the Humanities, $10 million to preserve Native American languages, a $15 billion bailout for the airline industry, and a host of other spending that was criticized by Republicans.

“The bill has over $1 trillion in bailouts, pork, and unrelated policy changes,” Senate Republicans charge in a video advertisement released Tuesday.

“Don’t let Dems tell you the ‘American Rescue Plan’ is a coronavirus relief bill,” the ad states.

While President Biden’s rhetoric supports bipartisanship, Democrats will advance the relief package in the Senate using a parliamentary procedure called budget reconciliation to avoid a filibuster and pass the bill without GOP support. They cite polls that show popular support for a coronavirus relief package and warn that Republicans are opposing their constituents by criticizing the bill. A Quinnipiac poll found that 68% of U.S. adults support Biden’s proposal while 24% are opposed.

“The vast majority of the American people like what they see in this package. And that should be an indication, or should be noted by members of Congress as they consider whether they’re going to vote for it or not,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week.

Those polls haven’t stopped Republican lawmakers from speaking out about their opposition to the $1.9 trillion legislation.

Speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday, McConnell accused Democrats of “steamrolling ahead with a massive spending plan on a completely partisan basis.”

McConnell called the package “a combination of miscellaneous non-COVID-related liberal wishlist items.”

Other Republicans share McConnell’s thinking. On Tuesday morning Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) told Fox News that Democrats want to use the coronavirus pandemic as “an excuse to fulfill a lot of longstanding liberal priorities.”

In a statement Friday, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee said, “House Democrats’ $2 trillion socialist boondoggle puts partisan politics first and fails to address the most pressing needs facing Americans, like getting kids back in the classroom and reopening small businesses.”

Even Republicans from outside Washington are weighing in. South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem criticized provisions of the bill that would provide funding to states and local governments facing budget shortfalls that existed before the pandemic and were exacerbated by lockdown policies that shut down local economies.

“It’s a very, very unfair bill. It bails out those states that shut down their economies. It rewards them for making people stay in their homes and for taking away a business’ right to be open and to take care of their customers and employees,” Noem said Tuesday. “It’s incredibly detrimental to our state because we made the right decisions, we trusted people.”

As for Democrats, they are confident that the Republican opposition to the stimulus bill will ultimately backfire. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told the Washington Post last week that Biden’s relief plan will lead to economic recovery and an end to the pandemic.

“”I think the president’s plan will work, and the Republicans should get behind it. And they will wish they had,” Maloney said.

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