As the shutdown drags on into its 27th day, lawmakers are attempting to alleviate some of the financial pain felt by affected federal employees.
A bill introduced by newly-elected Rep. TJ Cox, D-Calif., on Thursday would offer employees at shuttered agencies a no-interest loan of up to $6,000 to help pay mortgages and cover bills for other necessities. A credit check would not be necessary in order to qualify, and the amount of the loan would be automatically deducted from the recipient’s paycheck once government reopens.
Excepted employees working during the shutdown have always been guaranteed compensation once the appropriations lapse is resolved, and a bill President Trump signed into law on Wednesday extends that guarantee to furloughed employees as well.
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“This is not … pie-in-the-sky legislation,” Cox said during a Thursday press conference outside the Capitol to unveil the loan bill. “This is the logical next step to legislation that’s already been passed. We have already signed into law that these workers are due and we are obligated to pay them their back wages. This just turns that commitment into cash. Into cash that they can use today.”
The bill, which had 70 Democratic co-sponsors as of Thursday morning, would extend the same loan option to employees in any future shutdown lasting more than 15 consecutive days.
It marks the first legislation Cox has introduced, though he noted “it’s safe to say that this is not the first bill that I wanted to introduce.”
Co-sponsors joining Cox at the podium Thursday emphasized that the bill would not provide federal employees any money they are not already owed, but would go a long way toward alleviating financial stress during the shutdown.
“Many people don’t fully understand the human toll on our federal employees is increasing every single day,” said Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. “They’re pawning off their personal property. Many of them are even quitting.”
Providing loans is the right thing to do, she said. “I know that $6,000 is going to help … our families on a temporary basis,” she added.
Meanwhile, other lawmakers are attempting to get excepted employees paid now, rather than when government reopens. Republican Sens. Ron Johnson, Wis., and Susan Collins, Maine, last week unveiled the Shutdown Fairness Act, which would grant immediate pay to employees working during the shutdown because their jobs involve the “safety of human life or protection of property.” Agencies would be authorized to use unappropriated funds to compensate excepted personnel now.
The lawmakers compared the bill to the 2013 Pay Our Military Act, passed before the October 2013 shutdown. That act gave the Defense Department flexibility to keep most civilian workers on the job during the lapse in appropriations and to pay the armed services and any civilians and contractors working in support of the military on time.
Meanwhile, the House on Thursday rejected a Republican attempt to give federal employees the first paycheck they missed during the partial shutdown. The legislative language would have retroactively funded agencies through Jan. 15, thus allowing money for the paycheck but continuing the shutdown.