As Sept. 30 approaches, the possibility of a government shutdown is likely overshadowing most other pay and benefits issues on federal employees’ minds. A shutdown – after all – would mean delayed paychecks for just about everyone. For those who are furloughed, there is no guarantee of retroactive pay even after agencies reopen.
Lawmakers are already working to address the pay issue, though there is still hope of passing a short-term continuing resolution in time to avert a crisis. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., has introduced a bill that would ensure furloughed workers receive their full salaries for the time they were forced to stay home, and that employees who have to work during the closures receive their back pay immediately after the shutdown ends (there was a delay following the last shutdown in October 2013).
A bipartisan team of House members from Northern Virginia has also taken up the cause. Reps. Don Beyer, D-Va., and Rob Wittman, R-Va., sent a letter to their House colleagues on Tuesday urging them to support legislation that would provide retroactive pay to all federal employees immediately after the government reopens.
These efforts have a good chance of success, given Congress’ strong track record of granting retroactive pay to all federal employees after previous shutdowns. But retroactive pay will do little to ease the immediate financial strain many federal employees are likely to feel if the shutdown extends for any significant period of time (the last one dragged on for 16 days).
The Federal Employee Education & Assistance Fund on Wednesday reminded employees that it offers interest-free loans of up to $1,200 to cover basic expenses such as mortgage payments or utility costs. FEEA makes payments directly to creditors, and then employees pay the loans back through payroll deductions. To read more about the program, click here. Those who don’t anticipate needing any financial help during a potential shutdown can also donate to the fund to help colleagues who may be struggling.
Pay isn’t the only benefit to worry about. Health insurance, retirement accounts and other perks are affected during shutdowns. To learn more about what would happen with your benefits if the government closes next week, read our shutdown primer here.
In non-shutdown related news, the American Federation of Government Employees applauded two new legislative attempts to fix pay and benefits inequities. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., has introduced a bill that would grant white- and blue-collar workers in the same location the same locality pay rates. Currently the locality pay boundaries for white collar workers use Census data on commuting, while the older blue collar boundaries were influenced by the placement of military installations, AFGE said. The Census data is the “proper” way of determining the boundaries, the union maintained.
“Simply put, maintaining different local labor market boundaries for hourly and salaried workers violates basic standards of fairness,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr., in a statement. “Hourly and salaried workers travel the same highways, ride the same trains, and work in the same buildings.”
This is not the first time Cartwright has taken up the wage area discrepancy. He introduced a similar bill in 2013. He has also offered legislation that would grant blue collar workers the same across-the-board pay increase as their salaried colleagues.
Meanwhile, Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., would like to ensure that Transportation Security Administration employees killed or hurt in the line of duty receive the same benefits as other fallen federal law enforcement officers. Last week she reintroduced the Honoring Our Fallen TSA Officers’ Act, which she first offered in the wake of Gerardo Hernandez’s shooting at a security checkpoint at Los Angeles International Airport in 2013. AFGE noted that two other TSA officers were wounded in the Los Angeles attack, and there have been other violent acts against transportation security officers since, including a March 2015 incident at New Orleans International Airport involving a machete.
The bill would also extend public safety officer benefits to air marshals hurt on duty.
“Incidents like those in Los Angeles and New Orleans should never happen again, but if they do, their families deserve the same benefits as any other officer who gives it all defending their communities,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said.