US officials’ shut-down pay bill passed amidst confused signals

By on 28/01/2018
Washington, D.C. where the US government shutdown finally ended.

Last week’s bill ending the US government shut-down has confirmed that federal civil servants will be paid for the three-day ‘furlough’ of 20-22 January – but hopes that officials would be guaranteed payment in future shut-downs appear to have been dashed.

The continuing resolution included an amendment, sponsored by Mississippi Republican senator Thad Cochran, guaranteeing that officials sent home during the furlough will receive their full salaries for the period.

“Employees furloughed as a result of any lapse in appropriations which begins on or about January 20, 2018, shall be compensated at their standard rate of compensation, for the period of such lapse in appropriations, as soon as practicable after such lapse in appropriations ends,” the measure reads.

Communications confusion

Initially, one media outlet suggested that the bill authorized back pay for any future shutdown this fiscal year, which ends on 30 September. And Jessica Klement, staff vice president, advocacy, for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE), told Global Government Forum that NARFE had initially been told that the bill would authorise furlough back pay for the rest of the financial year.

However, an assistant to Thad Cochran told Global Government Forum that the amendment only authorises back pay related to the recent shutdown, rather than ensuring such pay for future shutdowns. The bill provides funding for federal operations only until 8 February, when the government may face another shut-down.

Republicans and Democrats have so far failed to reach agreement on funding and policy issues, including the treatment of ‘Dreamers’: immigrants brought to the US as children, who may now face deportation back to their countries of origin. The new bill provides more time for talks in a bid to agree a full Budget.

Salaries uncertain

Jessica Klement, staff vice president, advocacy, NARFE (Image courtesy: NARFE).

Back-pay for furloughed workers is not guaranteed, though it is the government’s usual practice, according to fact-checking organisation PolitiFact. Congress must specifically authorise this expenditure.

Hundreds of thousands of employees were furloughed during the recent shut-down, ranging from 96% of workers at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to just 4% at Veterans Affairs, according to a Washington Post analysis.

In shut-downs, exceptions are made for agencies not dependent on annual congressional appropriations, and for employees whose work protects human life or property, or is otherwise designated as necessary by their agencies, the Post explains.

About Tamar Wilner

Tamar Wilner is a Dallas-based journalist and researcher who writes about public policy and the media. She's written extensively on energy, the environment, urban planning and small business for trade publications in the US and UK, and contributes regularly to the Columbia Journalism Review. Find her at @tamarwilner.

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