MRA Changes for COVID/COOP Related Expenses

March 6, 2020 Dear Colleague:  Use of LY19 funds for Telework equipment and services here

Authorized the use of LY19 funds for telework equipment purchases.  In light of the unique and unusual circumstances presented by the coronavirus, as well as to promote House office emergency preparedness in general, CHA has determined that it is appropriate to permit Member offices to be able to access any remaining unspent LY 2019 funds to purchase teleworking equipment and supplies (e.g. laptop and tablet computers, cell phones, etc.).  Offices may continue to use LY 2020 funds for this purpose, too.

March 11, 2020 Dear Colleague: Use of LY19 funds for Tele-townhalls here

Authorized the use of FY19 funds for coronavirus related tele-townhalls. In light of the Attending Physician’s recommendations with respect to social distancing, we recommend tele-townhalls as a useful and vital alternative way to communicate with your constituents.  We recommend that offices that have not previously held a tele-townhall consult with the Franking Commission.  Also, CHA has determined that remaining unspent LY 2019 funds may be used in connection with previously unscheduled tele-townhalls if conducted for the specific purpose of relaying information regarding the coronavirus. 

March 16, 2020 Dear Colleague:  Commuting Expenses here

Authorized the reimbursement of commuting expenses. Ordinarily, commuting expenses are not reimbursable from either the Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA) or Committee funds. However, the Committee on House Administration may authorize reimbursement of such expenses under “extraordinary circumstances.” The Committee has determined that the current coronavirus pandemic constitutes extraordinary circumstances.

Accordingly, staff who may have unique commuting expenses associated with the coronavirus may seek reimbursement for those expenses. For example, staff who may need to use ride sharing in lieu of public transportation, due to being in a high-risk category or reduction in the availability of public transportation, may seek reimbursement for that expense. There may be other unique commuting scenarios that will be eligible for reimbursement. This authorization is in effect until further notice.

April 21, 2020 Committee Republican Newsletter:  Use of MRA to Purchase Face-coverings

The Committee on House Administration determined that supplies used to make face-coverings and/or masks purchased for official business purposes are eligible for reimbursement from the Members Representational Allowance.

April 30 Committee Republican Newsletter:  Extend Deadline on Letter of Intent

The Committee on House Administration extended the time Members and Committees have to execute LY19 letters of intent through June 30, 2020.

May 6, 2020 Dear Colleague:  Paid Interns are Eligible to Telework here

Authorizes telework for paid interns, including issuance of official equipment. Paid interns are eligible to telework in the event of a disaster, pandemic, or other emergency, as part of an office's continuity of operations plan, provided the educational part of the internship is maintained, any work is incidental to said plan, and participation in the plan is certified by the office.

House offices may issue paid interns House equipment (e.g. laptops, tablets, and mobile phones) which can be used to access the House network. This change is intended to permit paid interns to continue their internships even where their office may be using telework arrangements. This applies to all paid interns, whether they are paid from the Members' Representational Allowance, Program funds, or committee funds.

May 13, 2020 Committee Republican Newsletter: Thermometer Guidance

Authorized reimbursement of oral or ear canal thermometers from May 13, 2020 – June 2, 2020.  Given the Office of the Attending Physician’s most recent guidance for congressional offices and work centers, the Committee on House Administration has received several inquiries about the purchase of thermometers for staff use.  It remains the guidance of the Office of Attending Physician to maintain maximum telework.  The Committee is working with the Office of Attending Physician and the Architect of the Capitol to procure thermometers for distribution at no cost to offices who implement a mandatory health monitoring policy that includes self-monitoring of temperature prior to reporting to the office. 

Given the increased demand for thermometers, the supplier that has been identified will need some time to deliver the thermometers to the Architect of the Capitol for distribution.  As a result, the Committee will temporarily permit offices to purchase or reimburse for oral (either digital or mercury) or ear canal infrared thermometers only, for staff who are required to report to the office, and as a condition of complying with the Employee Self-Monitoring Procedures described in the attached guidance from the Attending Physician. Following the guidance of the Office of Attending Physician, this should be an extremely limited number and only for those work functions that cannot be performed remotely.  If an invoice does not explicitly state that thermometers are oral (either digital or mercury) or ear canal infrared, offices are required to certify on the voucher that thermometers qualify for reimbursement or payment.

This temporary period will last four weeks, beginning May 13, 2020, and expiring on June 2, 2020.  If supply chain issues result in a longer delivery window, the Committee will re-evaluate the temporary period.

Should you have any questions about how to implement a health monitoring policy for staff who must report to the office, please contact House Employment Counsel at (202) 225-7075.

May 28, 2020 Committee Republican Newsletter: Plexiglass and Travel Screening

Authorized the reimbursement of plexiglass/COVID-19 barriers for district offices, travel screening services (TSA PreCheck, CLEAR.) The Committee on House Administration has determined that certain expenditures related to COVID-19 are reimbursable from the Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA).  As a reminder, the Attending Physician continues to recommend maximum telework.

Plexiglass/COVID-19 barriers:  Expenses related to the purchase and/or installation of plexiglass sneeze-guards or similar barriers in a House district office that are intended to minimize exposure to and transmission of COVID-19 are reimbursable from an office’s MRA.  A Member office may directly contract with a third-party vendor to have such barriers installed, or may reimburse a landlord in instances where the landlord has passed through those costs to the tenant(s).  The acquisition and installation of such barriers to mitigate against COVID-19 will be considered an ordinary and necessary expense, and not a capital improvement to the leased premises.  An office must provide standard voucher documentation, including an invoice and any underlying contract where applicable, to CAO Finance to process a reimbursement. 

For health-related questions regarding installation of such barriers or other proposed alterations to district office leased spaces related to COVID-19 response, please contact the Office of the Attending Physician at (202) 225-5421.  For other questions regarding the installation of such barriers or any other proposed alterations to district office leased spaces, please contact the Office of Administrative Counsel at (202) 225-6969.

Travel Screening: In order to ensure the safety of Members, fees associated with certain travel screening services are reimbursable from the MRA when those services are used for official travel by Members.  Specifically, enrollment or other fees associated with TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, and CLEAR will be considered ordinary and necessary expenses associated with official travel and reimbursable from the MRA when those services are used for official travel by Members.  In general, these travel services expedite identity verification and security screening, and allow for individuals to better adhere to social distancing procedures and limit exposure to crowded areas.  The Committee understands that enrollment in Global Entry includes enrollment in TSA PreCheck.  Official funds may not be used to pay for upgrades to a CLEAR plan that either enable additional travelers other than the Member to access CLEAR kiosks, lines, and facilities or that provide access to non-travel services. 

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Congressional Mailing Standards Commission

March 15, 2020 Committee on House Administration and Ethics Joint Dear Colleague on Update about the Coronavirus here

Authorized certain communications during primary election blackout period.

Members are generally limited from sending mass mailings and mass communications in the “blackout period,” the 90 days prior to any primary or general election or caucus for any federal, state, or local election in which the Member is a candidate. However, Commission regulations expressly permit Members to send communications regarding threats to life safety. The coronavirus qualifies as a threat to life safety, so mass communications limited to information about the coronavirus will generally be exempt from the blackout rule. Note that communications mailed via USPS do not fall under this exemption and are still prohibited.  A Member who is otherwise in a blackout period is strongly advised to get prior approval from the Commission for a communication about the coronavirus.

PLEASE NOTE: As was stated in the March 30, 2020 Dear Colleague below the CARES Act allowed the Commission to update this policy and offices can now send mail related to coronavirus life and safety issues during the blackout as long as they first receive an Advisory Opinion though the standard process.

March 30, 2020 Communications Standards Commission Dear Colleague on Franking Changes due to COVID-19 here

The CARES Act updated statutory provisions in Title 39, which provide the Commission authority to waive blackout restrictions so Members may use franked mail for communications related to threats to life safety. The Commission recently used this new authority to unanimously update the House Communication Standards Manual and waive the blackout restriction for unsolicited mass postal mail sent in response to or addressing COVID-19.

As a reminder, Members are generally limited from sending mass mailings and mass communications in the “blackout period,” the 90 days prior to any primary or general election or caucus for any federal, state, or local election in which the Member is a candidate. However, this update to the Commission regulations now expressly permits Members to send all types of communications regarding threats to life safety, including postal mail. 

This exception to the blackout restrictions is intended to serve the bona fide purpose of protecting life and safety. Communications sent under this exception must reflect that by including only germane information, resources, and materials. Communications sent under this exception are required to receive an Advisory Opinion through the standard request process in the online portal.

April 03, 2020 Joint House Administration-Ethics Dear Colleague on Update about the coronavirus and solicitation here

Authorized on a temporary basis the use of official communication to solicit for blood donationas and in-kind resources.  Accordingly, we wish to take this opportunity to announce a new, temporary exception to longstanding guidance regarding solicitation activity. Effective immediately, Members are permitted to use official communications for some solicitation activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.*  This guidance only applies during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

During this crisis, Members are temporarily permitted to use official communications to solicit for blood donations and in-kind resources—such as volunteer services, food, hand sanitizer, disinfecting materials, and personal protective equipment (PPE) including, but not limited to, gloves, masks, and gowns—on behalf of organizations defined as charitable under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) § 170(c).  Qualified organizations under IRC § 170(c) include those charitable organizations recognized under IRC § 501(c)(3), as well as state or local governmental entities, including public schools, and certain veterans’ organizations.  Please note the use of official communications to solicit for such organizations only applies to blood donations and in-kind resources, and does not allow for the solicitation of money for any individual or organization. 

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Changes to Employee Benefits During Pandemic

Student Loan Repayment Program here

Student loans are automatically being placed in “administrative forbearance” by lenders, currently our student loan repayment rules requires the loans not to be in forbearance in order to be eligible, the CAO is sending an abstract to CHA requesting that be changed so the House can continue to make contributions. The good news is, if approved the payments that the House makes will go 100% towards principal since interest doesn’t accrue during the forbearance period. Second, the taxes currently paid by the employee on this benefit will no longer be required for up to $5,250 of the benefit starting April 1. The CAO is working up a communication to explain this and will run by us first, then it will be sent to every staffer that participates in the program which is currently 1,950.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act here

Requires that House employing offices provide their employees with (1) emergency paid sick leave, and (2) for qualified employees, expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. These provisions will apply from April 2, 2020 through December 31, 2020.