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Trump signs bill to guarantee retroactive pay to federal employees impacted by shutdown

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

On January 16, the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019 was signed by President Trump. The bill will ensure that employees of the federal government and District of Columbia get paid retroactively, as soon as possible, for any period of furlough during the government shutdown, as well as for any period they were required to work.

Sending a message. Introduced on January 3 by Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), S. 24 cleared the Senate on January 10 by a voice vote. On the Senate floor, Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.) had filed an objection to adjourning for the weekend on the grounds that 800,000 federal employees would stop getting paychecks on January 11. There was then a discussion about whether something could be done to send federal employees a message of comfort that they will receive their paychecks, if not when they expected, but that they would be made whole.

“[A]nd I am glad we are able to send it by voice vote unanimously from this body … that they will be paid,” said Kaine. “When we reopen, they will be paid. That is not the same comfort as getting the paycheck. It is not the same comfort as knowing when the shutdown will be over and when they can go back to try to keep serving American citizens, but having the certainty that it will be paid is something that we can do for these people.”

House agrees. On January 11, the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act passed the House by a vote of 411-7. “Many Federal employees are suffering,” Representative Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said on the House floor. “But not only are they suffering … their children are suffering. They are in pain; they are worried; and they are scared. You see, they have mortgages and car loans to pay, day care expenses to cover, and food to put on the table.

“And even while they struggle to pay these bills, furloughed employees face the stress and anxiety of not knowing whether or not they will be paid when the shutdown ends,” Cummings continued. “The least we can do is to relieve that uncertainty.”

The legislation will guarantee that employees who are furloughed or required to work during the shutdown occasioned by a lapse in appropriations beginning or after December 22, 2018, would be compensated for the period of the lapse. Moreover, the employees would be compensated on the earliest possible date after the lapse in appropriations ends, no matter what their scheduled pay dates.

The bill also clarifies that excepted employees who have scheduled previously approved leave occurring during an appropriations lapse would be permitted to take that leave without undue penalty.

Further, the bill makes clear that its provisions apply to employees of the District of Columbia Government, D.C. Courts, and D.C. Public Defenders Service, who are also affected by federal government shutdowns.