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More Uncertainty Awaits Feds After the Shutdown

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The government shutdown is winding to an end, but federal employees are not out of the woods quite yet.

The shutdown, which has -- for varying lengths of times -- furloughed roughly 900,000 federal employees and temporarily cut off paychecks for many more, appeared primed to end Wednesday, 16 days since the government last operated at full strength. All federal employees, including those on furlough, will likely be reimbursed for the time they missed.

They still, however, face uncertainty.

“It is apparent that the deal that is being concocted is an inadequate one because it appears it will be a short period of time,” Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., said at a community event Wednesday with local business leaders and federal stakeholders. “Well that short period of time reinforces people’s notions they can’t depend on their federal paycheck coming in on a regular basis. They can’t depend upon the Congress to appropriate money on a regular basis.”

The compromise plan only provides government funding until Jan. 15, likely culminating in another confrontation between House Republicans and Senate Democrats over the implementation of sequestration cuts in 2014.

“There’s not much reason to celebrate,” Moran said.

In the interim, federal employees will certainly have their hands full. Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said her members have expressed concern about the growing pile of work awaiting them when they return to their offices.

“All that work is backed up,” Kelley said. “[Federal employees] are so committed to their jobs and take so seriously their obligation to the American public that they will want to move those backlogs as soon as they can but you can only do what’s humanly possible.”

Kelley added the workload was already piling up due to decreased workforces from sequestration.

“They will feel a lot of stress and pressure when they come back,” she said, “not from the agency or anyone else but from themselves.”

Help from Business

Local businesses in the Northern Virginia area pledged to continue to help federal employees for several months as they recover from the financial toll of the shutdown.

Kevin Reynolds, president of Cardinal Bank, will continue to give federal employees overdraw authority and provide mortgage relief. Kevin Reilly, president of Hyundai Alexandria, said that while his company’s payment deferral plan for furloughed feds would end once the employees go back to work, feds should continue to reach out to the company and Hyundai will make every effort to accommodate their financial difficulties. Utility companies such as Washington Gas and Dominion Power encouraged cash-strapped federal workers to start payment plans and promised to work with feds on a case-by-case basis.

The business leaders said they too expect to feel the ripple effects of the shutdown for many months. John Renaud, a National Park Service employee, agreed, saying he was not likely to make a significant purchase in this time of economic uncertainty.

“If you’ve been furloughed now, and you’re kicking the decision down the line, you’re going to be reluctant to make major purchase decisions until you have some security,” Renaud said. “Everyone needs to plan for their financial well-being and lack of certainty causes problems across the board.”

Many federal employees are putting off smaller purchases as well. In a survey of its members, 84 percent of respondents in an NTEU poll said they had to cut back on necessities. Seven in 10 are having difficulty making ends meet, while nearly half are delaying medical treatments to save money.

Help from Agencies

As federal employees have sought relief while operating without paychecks, their unions were fighting to get help from agencies.

NTEU has achieved some success on that front, Kelley said, convincing the Homeland Security Department, Health and Human Services Department and Internal Revenue Service to issue letters on official agency letterhead explaining their employees were temporarily not receiving pay.

These letters will help the employees receive payment deferrals and greater access to loans, Kelley said. 

Eric Katz joined Government Executive in the summer of 2012 after graduating from The George Washington University, where he studied journalism and political science. He has written for his college newspaper and an online political news website and worked in a public affairs office for the Navy’s Military Sealift Command. Most recently, he worked for Financial Times, where he reported on national politics.

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