This story has been updated.
Washington-area lawmakers have introduced a bipartisan bill to ensure furloughed federal employees receive back pay for the duration of the government shutdown.
Federal workers would get retroactive pay, regardless of their furlough status, once the government is funded, under the legislation. Twelve Democrats and Republicans are pushing the bill in the House; in the upper chamber, Maryland and Virginia senators late Tuesday afternoon introduced companion legislation.
Nearly 1 million federal civilian employees have been furloughed because the government shut down at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 1. Furloughed employees still had to show up for work on Tuesday to receive furlough notices, turn in any government equipment, and set up out-of-office voice and email messages. It is the first time in nearly 20 years that the government has closed for business because of a lapse in congressional funding.
“Leaving the question of retroactive pay for furloughed employees, already shouldering much of the burden of sequestration, up to this highly divisive Congress is deeply concerning,” said Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., the House bill’s sponsor. “Today's bipartisan proposal shields family pocketbooks from partisan politics and reaffirms our commitment to our federal employees.”
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., the bill’s lead Republican co-sponsor, said feds should not be punished because Congress “couldn’t get its job done,” pointing out that “several federal workers paid the ultimate price” in the Navy Yard shooting.
Congress must approve back pay for federal employees who are furloughed during a government shutdown. An effort to grant retroactive pay likely will meet resistance from lawmakers, particularly in the GOP-controlled House. If lawmakers reject back pay legislation, then it would be the first time they refused to reimburse feds for unpaid leave resulting from a lapse in appropriations.
Civilian federal employees already have been subjected to a three-year pay freeze, and automatic, across-the-board budget cuts resulted in furloughs for thousands of workers this summer.
“Federal employees face the same kinds of financial pressures as their private sector counterparts,” said National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley. “Like most Americans, they live paycheck to paycheck…. Each day the shutdown continues, they have reason to worry about how they will meet their obligations -- and when, if at all, they will be paid."
Federal workers who stay on the job during a shutdown are paid but not until the government is back up and running, so their paychecks could be delayed depending on how long the shutdown lasts. President Obama on Monday signed into law legislation that 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.
Obama on Tuesday sent a letter to federal employees praising their dedication and commitment to public service and emphasizing that “none of this is fair to you.” He did not explicitly support retroactive pay for furloughed workers, but there are indications that he would. “I will continue to do everything in my power to get the House of Representatives to allow our government to open as quickly as possible, and make sure you receive the pay that you have earned,” Obama wrote.
Still, Congress has the final say over whether to grant back pay to furloughed workers.