WASHINGTON, January 11, 2019 — Government shutdowns could be a fraction less stressful for government workers now that legislation guaranteeing them post-shutdown back pay is headed to the president’s desk.
More than 800,000 federal employees have been out of work or working for free since many federal departments and agencies ran out of money on December 22, after President Trump blew up a Senate-backed deal for the fiscal year 2019, after talk radio personalities complained that it did not include funding for a wall along the US-Mexico border.
Some federal workers — law enforcement, Transportation Security Administration screeners, air traffic controllers, and others deemed “essential,” have remained on the job despite the lapse in appropriations. Those workers received paychecks for $0 on Friday, the first federal payday since the shutdown began.
But the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act, which the House of Representatives approved by a vote of 411-7, ensures that employees of the federal and District of Columbia governments affected by what is now the longest government shutdown in American history will receive any compensation they would have been entitled to during the funding lapse. The Senate approved the legislation by voice vote earlier this week.
Sponsored by Maryland’s two Democratic Senators, Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, the bill also guarantees that federal workers will be similarly compensated after future shutdowns.
While federal workers have been granted back pay after previous government shutdowns, it has never been guaranteed. Each time, Congress has had to vote on whether or not to grant back pay after a shutdown has ended, leaving federal workers uncertain as to whether they’d be made whole.
If the Cardin-Van Hollen bill is signed into law by President Donald Trump, furloughed federal workers will sleep more soundly knowing they’ll be paid “at the earliest date possible after the lapse in appropriations ends, regardless of scheduled pay dates.”
Also tucked into the Maryland senators’ bill is a provision allowing “essential” federal workers who’ve been called up during a shutdown to use previously-scheduled leave.
Because current law prohibits federal workers who’ve been deemed essential from taking time off during a shutdown, many federal employees — and their families — saw their carefully-arranged Christmas vacations scuttled when the current shutdown began.
Van Hollen took to Twitter to celebrate his bill’s passage in the House, and to call on President Trump to end the shutdown, which is entering its fourth week.
“Our bill to provide back pay to federal workers impacted by the shutdown just passed the House and is headed to the President’s desk. But as hundreds of thousands of federal employees get a paycheck for $0 today, they cannot afford to wait. Time to end the shutdown!” Van Hollen tweeted.
BeltwayBreakfast has inquired as to if and when the president plans to sign the bill, but a White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to our request for comment.