The current measure considers debt defaults as well as shutdowns.

The current measure considers debt defaults as well as shutdowns. Scott Kirkwood/NPCA via Flickr

A Bill to Protect Feds During Shutdowns Is Back, This Time With Debt Default Safeguards Too

The measure would suspend the enforcement of civil penalties related to falling behind on bills until 30 days after the end of a government shutdown or debt ceiling breach.

Democrats in the House and Senate last week proposed a measure aimed at protecting federal employees from financial consequences if their paychecks are interrupted by political brinkmanship in the form of a government shutdown or debt default.

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., have reintroduced the Federal Employees Civil Relief Act (S. 640). The bill, first introduced in 2019 amid the 35-day partial government shutdown, protects federal workers and contractors from a variety of civil financial penalties during a lapse in appropriations or a breach of the debt ceiling.

Under the bill, between the first day of a shutdown or debt default and 30 days after the end of an appropriations lapse or debt default, federal employees and contractors cannot be: evicted or foreclosed upon; have their car or other property repossessed; or lose access to their health insurance due to missed premiums. It would also protect them from negative consequences associated with falling behind on student loan payments and other bills, including a decrease in their credit score.

Following the 2019 shutdown, Congress enacted legislation aimed at protecting federal employees from the worst impacts of appropriations lapses, including a law that automatically authorizes backpay for federal workers who were furloughed or forced to work without pay during a shutdown once agency funding is restored.

This year’s iteration of the bill differs from the 2019 version in that it aims to protect federal employees during a debt default, in addition to appropriation lapses. Republicans in Congress have threatened to withhold their support for legislation to raise the debt ceiling, which allows the government to borrow money to pay for appropriations Congress has already authorized, unless lawmakers agree to cut discretionary spending.

The new shutdown protection bill has the support of a variety of federal employee groups, including the American Federation of Government Employees, the Federal Managers Association, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, and the National Treasury Employees Union.

“No family should be left struggling to pay their bills and provide for their families because of the failure of Congress to do its job,” Kilmer said. “Federal workers aren’t Democrats or Republicans when they show up for work. They are public servants that protect our sailors through their work at the shipyard, that prepare timber sales in the federal forests, that welcome visitors to national parks, that care for our veterans, that ensure citizens can get the services they need, and that keep us safe. We should have their backs.”

“Federal workers are dedicated public servants who inspect our food and water, maintain our parks, and care for our veterans,” Schatz said. “The last choice they should have to make is between feeding their families and keeping the lights on. This bill will make sure we protect them from any attempts by Republicans to shut down the government and harm federal workers.”