In-Depth: Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to guarantee that furloughed federal employees will be paid retroactively as soon as possible after a lapse in appropriations ends:
“Federal workers are dedicated public servants who simply want to do their jobs on behalf of the American people. They shouldn’t continue to suffer – working dangerous jobs without knowing when their next paycheck may come, or being forcibly furloughed and unable to carry out their mission – because of extreme partisan gamesmanship. This and all government shutdowns have real consequences for hard-working federal employees across the country and the local economies they support as consumers. Congress should pass this bill and the president should sign it as a symbol of good faith and respect for the men and women who keep our country safe and moving forward.”
In a call with reporters, Sen. Cardin added that this bill lets federal workers know they “won’t be political pawns” in shutdown negotiations:
“We want to let federal workers know that they won’t be political pawns [in negotiations]. It should be that as soon as appropriations are passed, your pay would be guaranteed, and the pay would be restored to federal workers, both furloughed and those working without pay. This also would protect pre-approved leave time that was approved prior to the shutdown, but is now in jeopardy.”
President Trump has said that he’ll sign this bill if it passes Congress. In a statement on the Senate floor, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said:
“I had an opportunity to talk to President Trump a few moments ago and wanted to indicate to our colleagues that he will sign the bill that we’ve been discussing here to guarantee that government workers who’ve been displaced as a result of the shutdown will ultimately be compensated.”
The Federal Managers Association (FMA) supports this bill. In a letter to Sens. Cardin and Susan Collins (R-ME), FMA National President Renee Johnson wrote:
“We endorse [this] vital legislation, which would provide back pay and some certainty to federal employees furloughed during the government shutdown. As you clearly know, because of the lapse of funding, hundreds of thousands of employees are in the middle of a furlough of an undetermined length. As a result, these employees are unable to meet their congressionally-mandated missions, and many area already struggling to meet personal financial demands. Federal employees are dedicated to supporting their fellow Americans and their communities. Like their private sector counterparts, federal employees face growing fiduciary demands, such as increased health care costs, and often support their entire families on a single paycheck. FMA strongly supports [this] bipartisan legislation, which would ensure these hardworking employees are provided back pay after a unnecessary shutdown, completely beyond their control. [This bill] would grant much needed relief and peace of mind to all of these employees.”
Jacque Simon, public policy director at the American Federation of Government Employees, suggests that guaranteeing back pay could dissuade lawmakers from provoking future shutdowns:
“We fully support the bill and appreciate that it gives federal and [Washington], D.C., government employees peace of mind. It could be a disincentive for future shutdowns, because, as much as I hate to say it, for some people, depriving people of their paychecks seems to be part of the appeal. And it would be a benefit if Congress did not have to pass [back pay] bills again and again and again.”
This bill passed the Senate by voice vote without objection with the support of 40 bipartisan cosponsors, including 36 Democrats, two Republicans, and two Independents. It has the support of the Federal Managers Association (FMA) and the Federal-Postal Coalition (including the American Federation of Government Employees, National Treasury Employees Union, National Federation of Federal Employees, National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, Senior Executives Association, Federally Employed Women, Federal Managers Association, and more).
Companion legislation has been reintroduced in the House by Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) and 76 bipartisan cosponsors, including 68 Democrats and eight Republicans. It passed the House on Friday, January 4, 2019.
In the previous Congress, this bill passed the Senate but never advanced farther before the new Congress convened.
Of Note: There’s no official law requiring that federal workers receive their back pay after a shutdown. However, in every other recent government shutdown, all federal workers have received their back pay after the shutdown’s end.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) argues that this bill would remove some of the uncertainty that federal employees face during appropriations lapses:
“[Providing back pay after a shutdown] has been the practice, but there’s no guarantee in law. It’s unfair, unneeded uncertainty on top of the unfairness of not getting a paycheck at all. It’s important to put into law something permanent so that going into future shutdowns, federal employees at least have the assurance and certainty that they will be paid at the end of the day.”
Generally, it takes the government at least two to three days to process payroll, so if this bill passed, workers would likely receive their back pay after at least that much time elapsed after appropriations resumed.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / ronstik