Sponsors of the legislation, which has passed the House as part of an appropriations package, say it could deter future shutdown threats.
Maryland’s Senate delegation on Thursday reintroduced a bill to ensure that federal workers furloughed during the partial government shutdown, and any potential future shutdowns, will be promptly given back pay once federal agencies reopen.
The 2019 Government Employee Fair Treatment Act (S. 24), introduced by Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, would provide back pay for federal workers forced to stay home as a result of the shutdown that began last month, as soon as a bill is enacted to restore appropriations at currently unfunded agencies.
“We want to let federal workers know that they won’t be political pawns [in negotiations],” Cardin said in a call with reporters Friday. “It should be that as soon as appropriations are passed, your pay would be guaranteed, and the pay would be restored to federal workers, both furloughed and those working without pay. This also would protect pre-approved leave time that was approved prior to the shutdown, but is now in jeopardy.”
Excepted employees, who are currently working at federal agencies despite the lapse in appropriations, already are guaranteed to receive their paychecks as soon as funding is restored.
Van Hollen said the bill would also apply in the case of future shutdowns, which would remove some of the uncertainty that employees face during lapses in appropriations.
“[Providing back pay after a shutdown] has been the practice, but there’s no guarantee in law,” he said. “It’s unfair, unneeded uncertainty on top of the unfairness of not getting a paycheck at all. It’s important to put into law something permanent so that going into future shutdowns, federal employees at least have the assurance and certainty that they will be paid at the end of the day.”
Jacque Simon, public policy director of the American Federation of Government Employees, suggested that guaranteeing back pay could dissuade lawmakers from provoking shutdowns in the future.
“We fully support the bill and appreciate that it gives federal and [Washington], D.C., government employees peace of mind,” she said. “It could be a disincentive for future shutdowns, because, as much as I hate to say it, for some people, depriving people of their paychecks seems to be part of the appeal. And it would be a benefit if Congress did not have to pass [back pay] bills again and again and again.”
Shortly before the shutdown went into effect last month, the Senate passed a similar measure by unanimous consent, although the House did not act on it. The House on Thursday approved an appropriations package that would reopen the government, which included language to provide back pay for furloughed federal workers, although that bill is not expected to see a Senate vote in the immediate future.