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A COVID Tax Credit and other Incentives for Federal Workers

I've written on this topic in the past and I keep banging on about this because the gaslighting of workers to get them to disbelieve what their minds are telling them and what they are experiencing just has to be spoken. I am still waiting for tax credits for turning my home into an extension office of the federal government during the COVID crisis so that the country's public health business could continue.

 

While the modern world is exploring the many ways there are to embrace the future of work, the thought of being forced to return to my office makes me clench my teeth and tightens my jaws. I am a federal government employee. I chose this career after working in the private sector, working for Congress, and after trying my hand at much more lucrative work. I chose to support the health of the most vulnerable people of this country through compensated public service.

When the COVID pandemic required that I stay home and work, I made the transition to work from home like millions of other federal staff. We pretty seamlessly transitioned from in person meetings to multiple virtual meetings per day. We made and kept deadlines, continued to work with contractors, I worked and I maintained myself and my mental health while watching news reports of unimaginable thousands dying from the virus. I worked and led a dynamic team of individuals, while crying through the tears that would well up in my eyes witnessing the urban lynching of George Floyd and the slowness of justice. I worked and still work to keep coworkers motivated to find innovative approaches to do the same work over and over again - to actually imagine, see, and remember the folks living in Appalachia, in the Hollers of West Virginia, in the Bronx, and right here in the District of Columbia who we work for - whose high blood pressure, substance use, and cancer care we want to improve.

 

Since March of 2020, much of the federal workforce has learned how valuable their time is and how much they are empowered by being able to manage their own time in the places and spaces of their own choosing. The time that is spent commuting long distances could actually be reduced and perhaps people could achieve closer to seven to eight hours of sleep more often. Additionally, longer commutes by car contribute to increased carbon emissions and only exacerbate global climate issues. How precious and non-renewable is the time that we get to spend with our children or caregiving for an adult loved one.

 

Lots of reasons for this push back to the office have been floated in the news, from it is the need to go back to the water-cooler culture where in-person professional interactions are critical for getting the work done, to the brazen expression of the need to bring people back to leased empty offices and to reinvigorate the downtown and other businesses that depend on a workforce for sales - coffee shops, sandwich shops, convenient stores.

These reasons are not good enough for me. They are not more important to me than my mental and physical health. The economy overall is not suffering from federal workers not buying overpriced coffee and sandwiches, we are likely supporting the economies in our own communities. Instacart, DoorDash, and GrubHub are still thriving. According to a recent study by Dr. Robert Kulick of NERA Economic Consulting, Instacart has had a uniquely positive impact on the U.S. brick-and-mortar grocery industry and the American economy, both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic 1. The study reveals that Instacart has helped U.S. brick-and-mortar grocers increase their revenue by $6.4 billion since 2013, with more than half of that ($3.5 billion) coming during the first half of 2020, even as the pandemic was forcing other retail sectors to pull back 1.

According to a recent report by Oxford Economics, DoorDash supported an estimated $68.9 billion in U.S. GDP in 2021, with over 500,000 merchants active on the DoorDash platform that same year 1. The report also shows that DoorDash facilitated over $25 billion in sales in the U.S. for its Marketplace merchants in 2021 1.

But on top of this, are there actually any incentives being offered by these businesses to federal workers to encourage us to come back? It is not part of any of our position descriptions nor should it be an unspoken expectation that we will shoulder the cottage industry of small businesses that are geographically proximate to federal work spaces.

 

Not once has the federal government offered to compensate those of us who converted our spare bedrooms, basements, or dedicated other spaces in our dwellings for office work in order to do the work of the American people. Most home offices are tax deductible. Not once has the federal government offered to reimburse, calculate tax credits, or anything beyond the email letters of thanks to those of us who had to purchase equipment to work from home, doing the work of the American people. This includes the purchase of larger desk monitors to prevent vision damage from using the tiny screens of laptops all day, the purchase of toner for printers, printers, paper, the use of our electricity and WIFI, down to the use of non-government issued pens and other utensils. Not once did the federal government offer meaningful and useful self-care and mental health care opportunities beyond the lip service paid to promoting the generic Employee Assistance Program (EAP) sharing pamphlets for it that feel like an end of the world Bible tract hand out.

 

Everyone is incredibly exhausted, tired of the rat race, the threats of the future elimination of wide swaths of civil servants, the pretending that we put the genie back in the bottle, and the constant bashing of federal employees, who have chosen to serve the public. Who will step up and demand better for the federal workforce?

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