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House funds allowed for Uber and Lyft as virus spurs transit cuts

House Administration Committee: Pandemic constitutes “extraordinary circumstances”

Congressional staffers who need to keep their distance from public transportation have been OK'd to use office funds for their commute.
Congressional staffers who need to keep their distance from public transportation have been OK'd to use office funds for their commute. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House has opened the door for the use of office funds to pay for commuting costs, including for staff to take Uber and Lyft rides to and from work, citing risks associated with the spread of coronavirus.

The Dear Colleague letter from the House Administration Committee alerts members and staff that Members’ Representational Allowance or committee funds may be used to reimburse commuting costs in certain circumstances.

“The Committee has determined that the current coronavirus pandemic constitutes extraordinary circumstances,” the letter, signed by Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren and ranking member Rep. Rodney Davis, said.

Washington’s public transit agency announced last week that rail and bus service would be altered, with trains operating normal weekday hours, but trains only running every 12 minutes. Bus service will run on a Saturday schedule all week.

“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,” the letter states.

The authorization for commuter reimbursement is in effect “until further notice.” The committee also noted that expenses related to temporary telework may also be considered for reimbursement.

[Senators remind colleagues about Capitol contractors amid coronavirus]

The House is in recess and most members have returned to their districts for the district work period. Staff in many offices have been encouraged to work from home to practice social distancing as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Over the weekend, Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a letter urging House members to consider the health and safety of their staff as essential.

“I am writing to encourage you to take steps to promote social distancing within your Washington, D.C. office as we engage in the District Work Period. This may entail more than half of your Washington staff teleworking from home,” Pelosi wrote.

This weekend, two House lawmakers announced that members or recent members of their staff had tested positive for COVID-19. California Democratic Rep. Adam B. Schiff announced a former staffer who recently left his office was diagnosed. Arizona Republican Rep. David Schweikert had a D.C. staffer test positive. Washington and district staff of both lawmakers will be teleworking until further notice.

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