Updated: Biden signs stopgap highway spending bill bringing 3,700 Transportation Dept. employees back to work

A stopgap highway funding bill gets furloughed Transportation Department employees back to work.

President Joe Biden signed a 30-day extension of federal highway spending Saturday night.  Funding for these programs lapsed Friday, and forced the Transportation Department to furlough 3,700 employees.

The House passed the short-term spending bill Friday, and the Senate met Saturday to pass the measure.

Congress averted a partial government shutdown last week, but lawmakers didn’t meet the same deadline to extend funding for the Highway Trust Fund, which finances most of the federal government’s spending on highways and public transit.

The $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure spending package championed by the Biden administration would have reauthorized the Highway Trust Fund and averted the furloughs, but the House delayed a vote on that bill as it considered also passing a larger infrastructure spending bill supported by congressional Democrats.

Most of the fund’s revenue comes from federal taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel, as well as other transportation-related federal taxes.

A Transportation Department spokesperson said in a statement Friday that the Biden administration worked closely with Congress to quickly reauthorize surface transportation programs and bring furloughed employees back to work.

Payments to reimburse state transportation departments, transit agencies and other grantees for existing grants continued during the lapse, allowing ongoing projects to proceed without interruption, the spokesperson said.

Safety-critical employees were not subject to the furlough, and furloughed DOT employees have previously received back pay from Congress.

DOT, in its updated shutdown guidance, states most Federal Highway Administration and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration positions are funded through the Highway Trust Fund.

The agency furloughed nearly 2,000 employees in 2010, the last time Congress let the Highway Trust Fund lapse. Congress passed legislation a month later giving those furloughed employees back pay.

The American Federation of Government Employees at the time praised Congress for passing the back-pay bill, and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) for introducing the legislation.

“Without this legislation, the employees would otherwise not be paid for the time they were furloughed when the highway trust fund was not reauthorized in a timely fashion,” former AFGE President John Gage said at the time. “This bill will ensure that the paychecks of the affected employees are not reduced. AFGE applauds Congress for doing the right thing.

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