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President Donald Trump has signed a new bill into law guaranteeing back pay for federal employees impacted by the partial government shutdown.
The Government Employee Fair Treatment Act covers both furloughed and excepted employees. It ensures they’ll receive retroactive pay whenever this shutdown ends — and appears to guarantee back pay during future lapses in appropriations.
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.
In addition, the law clarifies that impacted employees receive retroactive pay “at the earliest date possible after the lapse in appropriations ends, regardless of scheduled pay dates.” It also reminds agencies that excepted employees be allowed to take previously-scheduled paid leave during the shutdown.
Both the House and Senate easily passed retroactive pay legislation late last week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had told Senate Democrats that Trump assured him he would eventually sign the bill.
Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) introduced the legislation. More than 40 senators had co-sponsored the bill, including at least two Republicans. Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Rob Wittman (R-Va.) had introduced similar legislation in the House.
“Twenty-six days into the federal government shutdown, we are bringing some long-term relief to furloughed workers, but we still need to reopen the government immediately,” Cardin said in a statement. “The promise of back pay will not cover the cost of rent or groceries today. It won’t make a car payment or cover prescriptions.”
Federal employee groups applauded the President for signing the bill into law.
“While the longest shutdown in American history continues with no end in sight, this law provides some sense of certainty to hardworking federal employees struggling to survive during this political nightmare through no fault of their own,” Ken Thomas, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE).
Senators want OMB to resolve back pay for contractors
The law doesn’t cover federal contractors — who are also missing paychecks due to the government shutdown. A group of Senate Democrats have introduced legislation that would pay low-wage federal contractors, such as cafeteria workers, janitors and security guards, for the duration of the shutdown.
But Congress has no real mechanism to ensure the federal contracting community gets paid during a government shutdown. Individual companies can decide to pay their contractor-employees when the shutdown ends, but again, there’s no guarantee. Lawmakers have introduced similar legislation during past shutdowns, but those bills have never cleared Congress.
“We are committed to righting this wrong for contractor employees,” 33 Senate Democrats wrote in a Jan. 10 letter to Russell Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget. “Government contracts typically have provisions to modify the terms of the contract. Federal contracting officers should use these provisions to work with contractors to provide back pay for employees who lost wages as a result of the government shutdown.”
Cardin and Van Hollen, along with Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, were among those who signed the letter.
“Contractor employees cannot afford the chaos and uncertainty of government shutdowns, and some of these workers may seek other jobs if back pay is not provided to compensate for shutdown-related losses,” the senators said.