Now in a new Congress, lawmakers reintroduce back pay legislation for feds during shutdown

Bipartisan groups of House and Senate lawmakers on Thursday afternoon have reintroduced legislation that would guarantee retroactive pay for federal employees during the partial government shutdown.

Members had introduced nearly identical bills during the 115th Congress days before the partial shutdown began. But with the beginning of the 116th Congress on Thursday, members need to reintroduce previously-unfinished legislation for consideration.

A bipartisan group of 30 senators have introduced the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act, which would ensure excepted and furloughed federal employees receive back pay during this and future shutdowns.

It clarifies that employees of the District of Columbia government, including those at District of Columbia Courts and D.C. Public Defender Service, are included.

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Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced this bill, and it has 28 co-sponsors, including Virginia Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner and Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen.

“Civil servants bring dedication, competence and experience to their work, and I appreciate all that they do for our government and our nation,” Collins said in a statement. “Our legislation would guarantee that they are paid retroactively as soon as appropriations are restored. I am also continuing to discuss with the White House and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle ways to bring an end to the shutdown so that furloughed federal employees can return to work as quickly as possible.”

In addition, the Senate bill clarifies that impacted employees receive retroactive pay” at the earliest date possible after the lapse in appropriations ends, regardless of scheduled pay dates.” Finally, the legislation clarifies that excepted employees be allowed to take previously-scheduled paid leave during the shutdown.

In the House, Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Rob Wittman (R-Va.) have reintroduced their own version of this bill, which similarly provides back pay to federal employees during a shutdown.

Neither bill provides retroactive pay for federal contractors.

Both Cardin and Van Hollen introduced similar legislation in the 115th Congress that would grant furloughed federal employees back pay for the duration of the shutdown. The provision cleared the Senate with unanimous consent just hours before parts of government officially shut down on Dec. 22.

It doesn’t appear Congress and the White House have reached a deal to end the partial government shutdown, which is now closing in on two weeks long.

The House under new Democratic leadership is scheduled to vote Thursday night on two bills that would reopen government. One bill provides full-year 2019 appropriations for nearly every federal agency except the Department of Homeland Security. It would also reverse President Donald Trump’s pay freeze for civilian employees in 2019 and provide a 1.9 percent raise instead.

The second bill would temporarily extend current funding levels for DHS until Feb. 8, buying lawmakers more time to negotiate with the White House.

Both bills will likely pass the House, and it’s unclear if they’ll get a vote in the Senate. The White House is poised to reject them if they do cross the President’s desk.

The Office of Management and Budget issued a statement of administrative policy on both bills as the House planned procedural votes. The omnibus doesn’t provide enough funds to secure the border, OMB said. It also funds several “unnecessary programs at excessive levels” than what the President proposed in his own 2019 budget.

“The administration is committed to working with the Congress to reopen lapsed agencies, but cannot accept legislation that provides unnecessary funding for wasteful programs while ignoring the nation’s urgent border security needs,” OMB said in the statement.

Language that would secure back pay for federal employees during this shutdown is also included in the House omnibus spending package.

Federal employee groups, meanwhile, are urging the President to find “immediate consensus” to fund all of government and pass retroactive pay legislation for workers.

“Like most Americans, federal employees have financial obligations that cannot be placed on hold and many cannot afford to be locked out of their jobs or go without their paychecks,” the Federal-Postal Coalition wrote Thursday in a letter to the President. “Delayed payments have a real economic cost — interest charges, late fees, lowered credit scores [and] loss of trust from creditors or landlords. Federal workers should not be forced to do chores for their landlords — as suggested by the Administration — instead of working for the American people.”

The Federal-Postal Coalition includes 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 and the Federal Managers Association, among many others.