Congress

Legislators look for new ways to pay feds

Image: Shutterstock / Paul Brady Photography 

Many of the 800,000 federal workers on furlough or working without pay during the now-month-long shutdown will miss their second paycheck on Jan. 25.

Some members of Congress are offering bills to reduce the financial impact of the shutdown on feds, even as the White House and Democratic lawmakers remain at odds over funding and reopening the government.

Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) is pushing a bill that would permit the more than 400,000 federal employees working without pay -- including FBI agents and airport security screeners -- to collect unemployment benefits.

The Labor Department recently affirmed its policy of not permitting working people from collecting unemployment, even though they are not being paid.

"If Trump is going to continue to hold federal employees hostage, then we will ensure they yare provided for during the shutdown," Brown said on Twitter.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) wants to keep paying feds who work during a shutdown.

"It defies common sense and anyone's definition of fairness to require federal employees to work without pay," Welch said in a statement. His bill would apply to future shutdowns as well.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) is offering a bill to give back pay to contractors in custodial, retail, food service, security and other typically low-wage jobs supporting federal activities.

Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) offered a bill to pay employees required to work, as a one-off appropriation for the current shutdown. His bill attracted 23 co-sponsors – all Republicans. Other members have offered similar legislation.

Many feds are dipping into their retirement funds for cash during the shutdown. Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) wants to let them do so without incurring any penalty.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, meanwhile, said in an interview on CNBC's Squawk Box that feds should look to their banks for assistance.

Asked about feds resorting to food banks because of missed paychecks, Ross said, "I know they are and I don't really quite understand why, because I mentioned before, the obligations that they would undertake -- say borrowing from a bank or a credit union -- are in effect federally guaranteed, so that the 30 days of pay that some people will be out, there's no real reason why they shouldn't be able to get a loan against it, and we've seen a number of ads from financial institutions doing that."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed Ross's comments.

"Is this a 'let them eat cake' kind of attitude? Or call your father for money?" Pelosi asked in her weekly press conference. "Or this is character building for you it's all going to end up very well just so long as you don't get your paychecks… I don't quite understand why as hundreds of thousands of men and women are about to miss a second paycheck tomorrow."

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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