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Lawmakers Renew Push for Contractor Back Pay, An Expansion of Veterans’ Benefits and More

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., is one of the lawmakers working to get back pay for contractors. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., is one of the lawmakers working to get back pay for contractors. Andrew Harnik/AP

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has not given up on providing back pay to federal contractors impacted by the 35-day partial government shutdown earlier this year, and hopes such a measure will be attached to an upcoming spending bill.

Senate appropriators are preparing a bill (S. 572) to provide $13.6 billion in disaster relief to states impacted by hurricanes Michael and Florence and last year’s California wildfires. In January, the House passed a similar bill (H.R. 268) that authorized $14.2 billion in disaster relief spending. That legislation, considered during the partial government shutdown, also attempted to reopen federal agencies, but failed in the Senate.

Last week, 38 senators, led by Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, urged Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and ranking member Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to add a provision to the disaster bill granting back pay to contractors who lost wages during the lapse in appropriations.

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“Contractor workers and their families should not be penalized for a government shutdown that they did nothing to cause,” lawmakers wrote. “While federal employees received back pay at the end of the shutdown, federal contractors did not. Contractor employees perform jobs that are critical to the operations of our government, such as food service, security and custodial work.”

Contractor back pay has had bipartisan support in Congress dating back to the midst of the government shutdown. Lawmakers tried to include the measure in the bill to reopen federal agencies, but the White House reportedly balked at the plan because of the provision’s cost. (A similar measure for furloughed federal employees had already been signed by President Trump). 

Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced legislation last week that would protect more of disabled veterans’ income in bankruptcy proceedings. The Honoring American Veterans in Extreme Need Act (S. 679) would exempt Veterans Affairs and Defense department disability benefits from the calculation of a debtor’s disposable income in bankruptcy proceedings.

The law currently exempts Social Security disability payments from calculations that help determine wage garnishments for creditors, but the same is not true of similar benefits provided for veterans and their dependent survivors.

“Forcing our veterans and their families to dip into their disability-related benefits to pay off bankruptcy creditors dishonors their service and sacrifice,” Baldwin said in a statement. “These benefits are earned, and we must do right by our veterans and protect their economic security, especially during challenging times.”

Cornyn added: “Disabled veterans fought for their country at great cost, and they shouldn’t need to fight to protect their disability benefits from creditors during bankruptcy. By providing parity between disability compensation and Social Security for those who have fallen on hard times, this legislation ensures we will continue to honor our veterans and their families.”

Erich Wagner is a staff correspondent covering pay, benefits and other federal workforce issues. He joined Government Executive in the spring of 2017 after extensive experience writing about state and local issues in Maryland and Virginia, most recently as editor-in-chief of the Alexandria Times. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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