Updated: Legislation in support of federal workers during shutdown

Updated Jan. 18 to include new actions, bill to grant loans to furloughed workers

As the longest shutdown in history drags on — now in day 28 — Congress continues trying to find ways to combat impending hardships for both the economy and the overwhelming number of federal employees affected by the lapse in appropriations.

Below is a collection of bills introduced recently in both chambers to secure funding for essential employees required to work during the shutdown. Some also aim to ensure financial security for furloughed employees who are currently not working.

From ensuring back pay to preventing creditors from holding the shutdown against an employee, some bills have garnered strong support.

New as of Jan. 18: Loans

On Jan. 17, freshman Rep. T.J. Cox introduced his first piece of legislation. The bill, the Immediate Financial Relief for Federal Employees Act, would require the Treasury Department issue loans to furloughed federal workers with no accrued interest.

This would help those suffering from financial hardship pay their outstanding bills and other financial obligations. More than 80 lawmakers signed on as co-sponsors.

“This is a commonsense piece of legislation that would provide immediate relief to the hundreds of thousands of federal employees who are suffering from this unnecessary shutdown,” Cox said in a  press release. “Right now, families in every neighborhood and zip code, are being forced to decide how to pay their mortgages, heating bills, put food on the table, or even ration medicine. We must do whatever we can to protect the workers who are paying the price for this Administration’s cruelty – and this legislation, common practice at businesses across the country, aims to do just that.”

Essential employee compensation

Essential employees — or those deemed necessary during an emergency situation or a lapse in appropriations — are required to work during a shutdown and they’re guaranteed to be paid eventually. But they won’t receive a paycheck until the government has reopened or a continuing resolution is passed.

Some legislation would partially open or fund certain agencies where essential employees are more prominent. Other bills push for compensation for any employee required to work during a furlough.

Sen. Martha McSally, (R-Ariz.)

On Jan. 10, freshman Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) sponsored legislation (S.111) to provide continuing appropriations for employees of the departments of Homeland Security and Justice, even in the event of a shutdown. The bill has 18 co-sponsors. A joint-resolution has also been introduced in the House by Rep. Nina Lowey (D-N.Y.) to do the same. The resolution passed the House and has been sent to the Senate floor.

A bill to reopen government and provide $35.9 billion in discretionary funding to the Interior Department, Environmental Protection Agency, Forest Service and other related agencies through Sept. 30. The Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2019 — sponsored by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) — passed the House on Jan. 11 and is also waiting on a Senate vote.

McCollum said those employed by these federal agencies protect public health and safety, and keep our natural places free from damage.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) also introduced similar legislation — called the Pay Our Protectors Act — on Jan. 9. that would provide pay for any employee working to secure the border or deter illegal immigration. The funding would cover salary and expenses for employees of Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Transportation and Security Administration, the e-Verify program and the U.S. Coast Guard, according to a press release from Gibbs’ office.

Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) introduced a bill — Providing Pay for Essential Employees Act — on Jan. 8 to pay all essential employees required to work. 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. The bill has 15 co-sponsors.

These bills have been sent to their respective chamber’s appropriations committee.

Updated Jan. 18: Retroactive pay

The government shutdown became even more real when the first pay period ended on Jan. 15, and employees received their pay-stubs showing the $0.00 reality.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.)

However, on Jan. 3, bipartisan groups of House and Senate lawmakers  reintroduced legislation from the previous Congress to guarantee retroactive pay for all federal employees during the partial government shutdown, regardless of status. The Government Employee Fair Treatment Act, introduced by Sen. Bill Cardin (D-Md.), was passed by the Senate on Jan. 10. The House also passed the bill, guaranteeing back pay to more than 800,000 federal employees, on Jan 11. The bill was signed into law by President Donald Trump on Jan. 16.

One of the major clarifications in the bill is that impacted employees will receive retroactive pay at the earliest date possible after the lapse in appropriations ends, regardless of scheduled pay dates. The Senate bill has 44 sponsors.

The House companion bill, the Federal Employees Retroactive Pay Fairness Act, re-introduced by sponsor Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), would do the same. More than 90 lawmakers have co-signed the House legislation.

“It is vital that the Senate take up the bipartisan legislation which has already passed previously in both chambers to end the shutdown and reopen the government,” Beyer said in a press release.

Congressional pay

If the shutdown continues, federal employees under furlough may have to file for unemployment or find other means of compensation. Many lawmakers have shown sympathy to those suffering from the shutdown limbo.

Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.)

Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) introduced a bill on Jan. 3 to reduce the annual rate of pay for members of Congress during a government shutdown. Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah) sponsored similar legislation — the No Work, No Pay Act of 2019 — on the same day to halt all pay for Congress during a shutdown. Both bills have been sent to the House administration and oversight committees.

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) sponsored a Senate companion bill on Jan. 10. It has been referred to the Senate committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

“It is the fundamental role of Congress to fund the government and until that happens, they shouldn’t get paid,” Daines said in a statement.

Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) went one step further to present a joint-resolution to add an amendment to the constitution that would prohibit members of Congress from pay during a shutdown.

With 15 co-sponsors, the resolution has been referred to the House Judiciary committee.

Other related bills

Three other bills were introduced recently to provide more support for federal employees and contractors who may find themselves in financial hardship.

The bicameral Federal Employee Civil Relief Act, introduced by Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) on Jan. 9, would protect federal workers and their families from foreclosures, evictions, loan defaults and other issues triggered by the government shutdown. The legislation has more than 20 supporters. It has been referred to the Senate finance committee.

Washington, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) sponsored a bill on Jan. 8 to provide compensation for federal contractors placed on unpaid leave as a result of the shutdown. Norton introduced a similar bill during the last government shutdown in January 2018.

“Low-wage federal contract workers can least afford to be penalized by President Trump’s shutdown,” Norton said in a press release.  “Unlike federal employees, who have always been made whole after a shutdown, many low-wage workers, who are the focus of our bill, earn little more than the minimum wage and receive few, if any, benefits.  And, unlike many other contractors, those who employ low-wage service workers have little latitude to help make up for lost wages.  We must act to ensure that low-wage, federally contracted service workers are not put at a unique disadvantage by the Trump shutdown.”

Among these bills, Rep. Tom O’Halleran said the impact of the shutdown on the average federal worker and beyond will continue to rise, and holding government accountable is vital. He introduced the Government Shutdown Impact Report of 2019 Act on Jan. 8 to require the Congressional Budget Office submit daily reports during a government shutdown.

These reports would including the effects of the shutdown on the economy and the costs. The bill has been referred to the House oversight committee and was co-sponsored by 14 other lawmakers.

“We have a responsibility to pass a bipartisan budget that invests in the future of our country, and it must be done on time every year,” O’Halleran said in a statement. “We must break the cycle of short-term funding bills that have hamstrung any progress we could be making on infrastructure repair, improved care and services for veterans, and growing the economy of rural communities.”


Story will be updated to reflect current Congressional actions

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