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Virus Relief Money Would Fund Vaccine Mandate Work Amid Shutdown

Sept. 30, 2021, 12:21 AM

The U.S. Department of Labor will use unspent pandemic-relief funds to cover the cost of drafting an emergency vaccination rule in the event of a government shutdown.

If Congress fails to pass a spending bill by end of Thursday to keep the government open, DOL would exempt from furlough employees who’ve been working on meeting President Joe Biden‘s directive for a regulation to require that companies with at least 100 employees ensure their workers are fully vaccinated or tested weekly, the department said in its shutdown preparation document.

Writing the emergency regulation is among the activities that DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined can’t be suspended during a shutdown, due to the need to prevent a reasonable likelihood of “imminent threat to the safety of human life or the protection of property,” the agency stated.

The department would finance the continuation of this work by drawing on unspent dollars from the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan Act—stimulus bills signed into law in March 2020 and March 2021, respectively.

The plans don’t say how many OSHA workers are dedicated to working on the vaccine rule, or would be during a shutdown. But OSHA intends to keep 1,246 full-time employees on duty during a shutdown, compared with its current level of 1,817. By contrast, when the department previously published a shutdown contingency plan, in December 2020, it stated that 439 out of 1,890 OSHA workers would maintain full-time status.

OSHA’s plan may never get implemented, but the preparations to further work on the vaccine rulemaking underscore the extraordinary pressure the agency is under to fulfill the president’s complex order in a timely fashion.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at bpenn@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Lauinger at jlauinger@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com

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