New legislation could safeguard feds during government shutdown

Two bills were introduced this week in the House and Senate to combat chaos in federal employee lives triggered by the government shutdown, days away from becom...

As the government shutdown comes closer to setting a new record, some lawmakers are so fed up with current law requiring essential employees to work without pay, they’ve decided to take action.

On Tuesday, Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) introduced the Providing Pay for Essential Employees Act. If passed, the bill would use appropriated funds under the Treasury Department to ensure those working during a shutdown would still be paid for their service.

Reps. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) signed on in support of the bill.

Essential, or excepted, employees included in the bill are air traffic controllers, Border Patrol agents, federal law enforcement officers and others who put their lives on the line daily.

“Federal employees dedicated to their mission of keeping America safe and our border secure are still going to work knowing they will be missing their paychecks,” Gibbs said in a press release. “They should not be caught in the middle of political ploys by politicians … If they are working to protect America and the lives of our citizens, they should be getting their paychecks on time.”

Friday, Jan. 11 marks the first official pay day during the current shutdown, and feds will not receive a paycheck. That includes roughly 420,000 workers deemed essential, and 380,000 furloughed.

One step further

Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) joined forces to release the Federal Employee Civil Relief Act. The bicameral bill would protect federal workers and their families from foreclosures, evictions, loan defaults and other financial hardships triggered by the government shutdown.

If passed, it would prevent landlords and creditors from taking action against federal workers or contractors hurt by a government shutdown. It also would give feds the ability to take action against violators.

The protections would be active for the duration of a shutdown, plus 30 days after it ends.

“Across 800,000 kitchen tables today, hardworking people are trying to figure out how to pay bills and provide for their families without an income,” Kilmer said in a statement“Federal workers are public servants; they deserve better than being treated like pawns in a negotiation. This shutdown is wrong, and it’s time to reopen the government — but until that happens, it’s Congress’ responsibility to help out the families most affected. This bill gives them some much needed relief.”

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) also signed on to support the legislation. He said Virginia is home to more than 170,000 federal workers.

“With each day that passes during President Trump’s shutdown, hundreds of thousands of federal employees are worrying about how they will pay for their bills even though their paychecks have stopped coming in,” Warner said in a statement. “This important legislation ensures that federal workers don’t face repercussions for making the hard choice between paying for basic necessities and paying their student loans.”

Warner is one of more than 20 other lawmakers to promote the bill. Others include: Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

Union support

Congress is not the only group fighting on behalf of the federal employees. Federal unions, such as the National Treasury Employees Union, have also taken steps to help those most affected by the shutdown.

NTEU filed a second lawsuit against the Trump administration on Wednesday seeking back pay —including overtime and damages — for excepted employees required to come to work during the partial shutdown. The union argued the government’s failure to pay overtime and minimum wages to federal employees is a direct violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

NTEU also supported the Federal Employee Civil Relief Act.

“People who took an oath to serve their country as federal employees should not have to worry about being evicted, having their car repossessed or going further into debt because of a government shutdown,” Tony Reardon, NTEU president, said in a statement. “I want to commend Sen. Schatz and Rep. Kilmer for having the foresight to introduce legislation that would protect the nation’s federal workforce.”

Many essential employees from agencies have promised to continue to stick to the oaths they’ve made, despite the lapse in pay. One organization, the FBI Agents Association, even released a petition on Thursday saying as much, while also pleading with Congress to provide a little more help.

“We will continue our work protecting our nation. We urge our elected representatives to fund the Department of Justice and the FBI, because financial security is a matter of national security,” the association said in a statement. “As those on the frontlines in the fight against criminals and terrorists, we urge expediency before financial insecurity compromises national security.”

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