How the coronavirus stimulus bill covered federal workforce concerns

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The stimulus bill was a heavy lift for Congress, now various agencies are working to implement it. For what it looked like at the ground level and some of the federal concerns, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke Virginia Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D). Temin asked her about a key provision on suspending minimum withdrawals from people’s Thrift Savings Plan and 401(k) accounts.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Tell us your thinking there.

Jennifer Wexton:  It was included in the CARES Act thanks to our advocacy. And I think the advocacy of a number of other folks as well. That was something that came directly from constituents. A lot of seniors across the district with TSPs, 401(k)s, IRAs worried about the impact that taking those required minimum distributions would have on their future retirement prospects if they had to take those distributions based on the Jan. 1 value – take them now with the value so much lower. So there is a one- year suspension on the required minimum distributions from those accounts.

Tom Temin: I guess the thinking is those are taxable withdrawals. But since the government is printing up another $2 trillion here, it probably is not that big an amount in the scheme of things.

Jennifer Wexton:  Well, I think that the thought is that you know, we want to protect our seniors’ retirement security, and this would be a very, very big blow for so many seniors. And we want to protect them.

Tom Temin: And let’s move on to contractors. And you’ve got quite a number of them in your 10th district in Virginia – kind of stretches an east/ west pattern. You have called for a contract termination moratorium during this period – federal contracts.

Jennifer Wexton: That’s correct. Absolutely, yep I did ask for and also for more guidance for contracting officers for flexibility in those contracts. And thankfully, that was included in t he CARES Act, a moratorium on contract terminations and to continue payment of contracts. What we had found was so many of these contractors were being limited in terms of the work that they could perform. They were ready and willing. But due to the closure or social distancing requirements in various facilities, they weren’t able to perform. So this would prevent the contracts from being terminated for non performance.

Tom Temin: I mean, contractors really represent kind of two constituencies for you, in a sense, for you and Gerry Connolly and a few of the others. A lot of the others. And that is you’ve got management – people that own the companies that run the companies. They have one set of concerns, but they’re cheek- by- jowl from a representational standpoint with those people that are employed by them. And so is it tough to balance the two concerns?

Jennifer Wexton:  Absolutely, yes. Well, a nd they share those concerns because, you know, as employers, they’re worried about their employees in their workforce, so they don’t want to have to let people go if they can help it. They want people to be able to maximize their earnings and be able to do the work that they want to do. But they are so often constrained by the limitations of the contract, so they do share the same concerns. But so many of our federal contractors, the employers are trying to keep people on the payroll as best they can, but need the assurances from the federal government that they will pay t heir contract as agreed.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton, who represents Virginia’s 10th District, and you have also called for better protection by the Federal Aviation Administration for people that have to be on the job, even though there’s not that many flights. But people do sit close together in the towers and so forth. What are you asking for and what’s been the reaction from FAA?

Jennifer Wexton:  Absolutely. I heard from a number of air traffic controllers about conditions at the Washington center and in air traffic control towers, where there were employees who should be eligible to telework who were not getting guidance, who were not getting permission to do that. So I sent a letter to the FAA administrator urging immediate action to maximize telework and protect air traffic controller safety. And afterwards they implemented those telework capabilities. So I think that they shared our concern. But it, sometimes they needed a little bit of a nudge in order to implement those policies. So I’m glad that they did. We need to make sure that the air traffic controllers who are working under close quarters are protected.

Tom Temin: So they can’t actually control planes remotely, though, can they?

Jennifer Wexton:  No, but there are a number of collateral and support services working in the same space who do have the ability to telework.

Tom Temin: What’s gonna be on Congress’s agenda after this heavy lift? Is anyone gonna have any energy to do anything?

Jennifer Wexton:  Well, this is phase three. I have no doubt that there will be a phase four and maybe more. You know, we’re gonna have to see what this does to shore up people standing at the moment and help the economy. As we move forward, I think we’ll find that there are some things missing from this legislation that we need to do more on. But right now it’s important that we get money into the pockets of American people in businesses and try to keep everybody afloat for the time being. And I have been on the phone constantly with small business owners, with workers with various folks around the district needing help and we are here for them and look forward to helping them in the future as well.

Tom Temin: Congresswoman Jennifer Weston represents Virginia’s 10th District. Thanks so much for joining me.

Jennifer Wexton: You’re welcome, thank you.

Tom Temin: We’ll post this interview at Hear the Federal Drive on demand. Subscribe at Apple Podcasts or Podcastone.

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