Debt Deal Grants Back Pay for Furloughed Feds

Tanjala Gica/

This story has been updated. 

Congress on Wednesday night passed legislation to reopen government that includes a provision to pay federal employees furloughed during the shutdown for the time they were out of work.

The legislative package to end the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling temporarily also authorizes retroactive pay for federal workers who have been on unpaid leave since Oct. 1. The House on Oct. 5 unanimously passed stand-alone legislation that would grant furloughed federal employees back pay, but it stalled in the Senate because Republicans reportedly opposed the legislation’s swift passage through procedural short-cuts and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., refused to bring to the floor House-passed legislation that would fund the government in a piecemeal fashion rather than through a “clean” continuing resolution.

Also, some believed that granting retroactive pay to furloughed employees before resolving the shutdown would eliminate a strong incentive for reopening the government quickly.

Federal employees received a paycheck on Friday, Oct. 11, that was smaller than usual because of the government shutdown. It’s unclear how long it will take for federal employees to actually receive their missed pay once Congress approves it and President Obama enacts the law.

The government’s emergency borrowing authority expires on Thursday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said. Congress has to increase the $16.7 trillion debt limit, or the government will default on its debts around the end of the month. The emergency borrowing authority has allowed the government to stay afloat through the summer.

The Senate crafted the plan to reopen the government and fund it through Jan. 15, 2014, as well as extend the debt ceiling through Feb. 7, 2014. The upper chamber passed the bill 81-18; the House approved the legislation 285-144. 

Excepted federal employees required to work during the shutdown are guaranteed back pay by statute. Federal employees who are currently furloughed, however, need congressional action to receive pay for the duration of the shutdown. In previous government shutdowns, Congress has always approved retroactive pay for the federal workforce, and employee groups and unions have repeatedly called on Congress to again ensure compensation. Congress did pass the Pay Our Military Act, which President Obama signed into law earlier this month. That law ensures all active-duty and reserve members of the armed forces, as well as any civilians and contractors working in support of those forces, are paid on time regardless of the shutdown’s duration.

(Image via Tanjala Gica/

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