Frazzled feds, fearful of being locked out of their offices or forced to work with no guarantee when or if they would get paid, can relax. Maybe. They may have (likely) dodged a bullet. This time. But don’t get too comfortable.
As Congress often does when it happens to be in D.C., the latest government shutdown (slated to kick in tonight at 11:59 p.m.) has been kicked down the road. It has been postponed (as many predicted) for a short time. The idea is to give the House and Senate time to come up with yet another CR (continuing resolution) which will allow agencies without budgets and appropriations — which is most of them — to keep on keeping on. Until the next shutdown deadline.
But as long-time civil servants know, no good deed (in this case, shutdown-avoidance) goes unpunished.
The next step, for some unlucky government employees could be seniority-based layoffs (known in government lingo as a reduction-in-force, or RIF), furloughs which if they happen definitely mean people will not be paid. Furloughs late in the Obama administration cost tens of thousands of federal workers millions of dollars in lost wages. So many people applied for emergency loans that the Federal Employees Education and Assistance fund (FEEA) ran out of money. FEEA has done many things — including providing full-ride scholarships to the college of their choice to the children who lost a parent or parents in the Oklahoma City federal building bombing. But it was stretched to the limit in 2013 when there were furloughs in the spring followed by a shutdown in the fall of that year. People were not paid during the furlough. Congress ordered full pay for those who were hit by the shutdown but in some cases payments were delayed weeks, putting a strain on people with bills to pay and families to feed.
Some lucky workers may be offered buyouts worth up to $25,000. The Environmental Protection Agency, at the top of President Donald Trump’s budget hit list, is trying to reduce costs by 31 percent. It is offering a limited number of buyouts (and early retirement) through June. Other agencies that need to shed people include the State Department (facing a 29 percent hit), the departments of Labor and Agriculture (each due to lose 21 percent) and the Department of Health and Human Services, which could be forced to cut costs by 18 percent.
In a worst-case scenario, some parts of some departments and agencies could offer buyouts, RIFs and furloughs.
During the run up to the potential shutdown, we’ve heard from lots of veterans of previous storms. Here’s one with a happy ending:
“I have been in the government now for 30 years all here in the D.C. area. I remember all the shutdowns since 1986. But, the October 2013 shutdown was the worst. Fortunately, I did have an emergency fund available. However, with the uncertainty as to when we would return to work and when or if we would get paid for the lost time, I became a miser. I had arranged some maintenance work on my home to be done, but I postponed that. I called my bank and asked them if I could suspend my mortgage payments (biweekly) until after the shutdown ended and we received back pay. My bank understood my situation and agreed to suspend payments without any penalties.
“In that month, I reduced the payments on my credit cards. We did not eat out. We stayed home. We did not shop online.
“My then partner and I had planned to get married in a simple civil ceremony back in the summer of 2013. Since I am a fed, we planned the wedding for Columbus Day weekend. In spite of the shutdown, we went through with our plans and were married on 10/11/13.
“When I heard that FEEA had depleted its funds due to the amount of emergency loans it gave, I immediately sent them $500.
“Even now I remember the stress that the shutdown gave me. But, I focus on getting married to my husband. That was the bright light during the darkness of the shutdown.” Smittynmd