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FLEOA Letter to the Senate on COVID 4 Package

FLEOA Letter to the Senate on COVID 4 Package


"Our world is still grappling with a COVID health crisis and federal law enforcement are still on the front lines in battle. It is imperative that as we navigate this crisis, Congress ensures federal law enforcement officers have the support they need to do their jobs. Our letter to the Senate leadership lays out the work they still need to do to ensure our lives are protected during this health crisis.” - President Cosme 

July 16, 2020 

The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Majority Leader
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510 

 

The Honorable Charles Schumer 
Minority Leader
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510 


Dear Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer: 

As the Senate begins its consideration of the next coronavirus legislative response package, I am writing on behalf of the more than 28,000 members of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association to advise you of our views on the most pressing needs of the federal law enforcement community. For more than six months now these men and women have been on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19, protecting and serving our nation and its citizens in often hazardous working conditions. They will continue to willingly place themselves in harm’s way for as long as is required, but they must have the proper resources and support in order to be able to carry out their important responsibilities. This is particularly important as new cases and new hotspots continue to emerge across the country.

To ensure federal law enforcement officers can continue to carry out their important missions and protect our nation and its citizens, we respectfully request your support for the inclusion of the below initiatives in the next coronavirus response package. Many of these priorities were included in H.R. 6800, the "Heroes Act,” passed by the House. They address issues related to the lack of paid sick and family leave for law enforcement personnel, the need for adequate protections for those officers who become disabled as a result of exposure to COVID-19 and the families of officers who die in the line of duty, and ensuring that our frontline first responders are fully compensated for the work they are performing day in and day out. We request that the following measures be front and center during the Senate’s forthcoming negotiations, and that you join with us in fully supporting our nation’s federal law enforcement personnel during this unprecedented and difficult time:

  • Approve a pandemic pay differential for federal employees. Throughout the pandemic, federal law enforcement personnel have not had the option to telework. They are required to routinely interact with the public and to report to duty stations where either social distancing is not possible or that lack other COVID-19 preventative measures. A pandemic pay differential would compensate those federal law enforcement officers and other frontline personnel for the risks they face daily and address the difficulty our members have faced in obtaining hazard pay from their respective agencies.
  • Provide a full governmentwide waiver of the caps on federal law enforcement overtime compensation and premium pay. Because of the impact of the pandemic on law enforcement staffing, many in our ranks have been required to work overtime on a regular basis to cover for those who are sick or who have been quarantined as a result of exposures to COVID-19. For some, the extra overtime hours required to ensure that agencies are able to fully carry out their important missions goes uncompensated because of an antiquated provision of Title 5 that caps the amount of pay a law enforcement officer can receive on a biweekly and an annual basis. That is simply unacceptable at this critical time, and why Congress must approve a waiver of these caps that is in addition to the authority provided to federal agencies under Sec. 18110 of the CARES Act. 
  • Extend emergency paid family and sick leave and eliminate the ability of federal agencies to exclude first responder personnel. While the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) included an extension of paid FMLA and sick leave to address the needs of those exposed to the virus as well as families impacted by the closure of schools and day care providers, it also included several provisions that made it difficult for federal law enforcement to access this benefit. FLEOA fully supports the inclusion of language to improve the accessibility of paid leave for federal employees generally, and that eliminates OMB’s authority to exclude first responder personnel from FFCRA paid family and paid sick leave.
  • Establish a presumption for COVID-19-related PSOB death and disability claims. With the ever increasing toll that the COVID-19 pandemic is taking on the ranks of law enforcement, it is imperative that Congress revise current law to create a presumption for COVID-19-related death and disability claims under the Justice Department’s Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) Program for law enforcement officers, firefighters, and EMTs at all levels of government. The Senate is already on record supporting such a presumption as it recently passed similar legislation—S. 3607, the "Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act”—by unanimous consent.
  • Ensure continuation of retirement status for federal first responders disabled as a result of COVID-19. Similar to the need to create a COVID-19 presumption for the PSOB Program, Congress should also ensure that federal law enforcement officers and other federal public safety employees who suffer a disabling injury in the line of duty are not penalized by the very retirement system that ought to be honoring their sacrifice and service. Under current law, federal law enforcement officers, firefighters, and other public safety employees may retire after 20 years of service at age 50, or after 25 years of service at any age (known as "6(c) retirement”). However, an officer who is disabled in the line of duty and is prevented from completing their service requirements is not eligible for 6(c) retirement. The inclusion of language found in S. 531, the "First Responder Fair RETIRE Act,” would guarantee that those first responders who suffer a COVID-19-related disability and are permanently prevented from continuing service in a covered position would be able to maintain their retirement status as if they had never been disabled.
  • Establish a COVID-19 presumption for claims under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA). To further ensure the protection of officers who are disabled as a result of exposure to COVID-19, Congress should also establish a presumption that a federal employee’s diagnosis with COVID-19 is contracted as a result of the employee’s employment for any claim for benefits under FECA. In so doing, this provision would significantly decrease the potential for delays in the processing of workers’ compensation claims for those federal law enforcement officers disabled by the health effects of exposure to the coronavirus or COVID-19.
  • Create a tax deduction for certain pandemic-related expenses of first responders. FLEOA also supports the inclusion of a provision amending the Internal Revenue Code to establish an above-the-line tax deduction for certain job-related expenses of federal law enforcement officers and other first responders incurred during the pandemic. This includes the purchase of equipment necessary to respond to the public health emergency, such as the personal purchase of PPE.
  • Ensure that U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services Officers are properly resourced to carry out their important duties. Since the beginning of this public health emergency, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has taken unprecedented steps to release inmates that may or may not be at risk for developing COVID-19. While this action certainly alleviates the burden on BOP, it has exponentially increased the burden on federal probation and pretrial services officers. Even before this current crisis began, these brave men and women were forced to contend with staffing and resource shortages related to the increase in releases required by the First Step Act. The addition of even more releasees to these officers' already heavy caseloads and back into communities that are struggling to maintain even basic social services has only served to exacerbate these issues. To address this growing crisis the Senate should provide additional funding to support probation and pretrial services officers for increased staffing, logistics support for newly released inmates, improved electronic monitoring technology, and improved access to vehicles so officers do not have to risk exposure by continuing to rely on mass transit or their personal vehicles. It should also pass an extension of Law Enforcement Availability Pay (LEAP) to all federal probation and pretrial services officers so as they work overtime hours to support these newly released inmates, they can at least be compensated for it.
To date, our nation has seen more than 3.4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 which has unfortunately claimed the lives of nearly 140,000 of our fellow citizens. These numbers are a grim reminder that even after months of stay-at-home orders, self-quarantine, self-isolation, and social distancing, our nation must continue to remain steadfast in its efforts to respond to this public health emergency. We are grateful for the ways in which Congress has repeatedly demonstrated its commitment to this fight, but now it must do so again. On behalf of the membership of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, we again request that you join us in supporting the inclusion of these important initiatives in the next coronavirus response package.

Sincerely, 

Larry Cosme
National President


CC: Members, United States Senate