WASHINGTON—Furloughed federal workers missed their second paycheck Jan. 25, bearing the biggest burden in the partial government shutdown that entered its 35th day, as Democrats and Republicans remain at loggerheads over providing funding for a wall on the southwest border.
Over the past week, the House rejected two Republican attempts to pay federal workers affected by the shutdown. The House voted against a Republican measure Jan. 17 that called for the issuance of a paycheck to federal workers who are furloughed or working without pay. The motion failed by 222-195 vote, with six Democrats supporting the Republican measure.
Another Republican motion to pay federal workers failed in the House on Jan. 23 with a 200-215 vote. This time, 10 Democrats crossed the aisle to support the measure.
“This is a very little known fact but it’s very important,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) told ‘Fox and Friends’. “Over the last week, we voted twice on a motion to recommit, which would send an appropriations bill back to committee, in order to pay federal workers.”
“If we’re not paying them, then I don’t know what else to say except that Democrats actually want them as leverage and that’s really not right,” Crenshaw said.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has provided greater flexibility to federal employees working without pay during the shutdown. The new guidance issued by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) on Jan. 23, allows “excepted” employees to “request time off based on their personal circumstances.”
Most employees working without pay during the shutdown are called “excepted” employees. They are typically workers who are considered essential to protecting life and property.
“During this difficult time, it is prudent, to the extent possible and appropriate, for agencies to provide additional flexibility to the Federal civil servants who are excepted from the furlough to perform necessary functions for the American people,” Margaret Weichert, OPM acting director said in the guidance.
These federal employees are also allowed to have a flexible work schedule and work from home more frequently if they are eligible.
Federal employees who have been affected by the shutdown will also get back pay as soon as the government reopens.
The Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019 cleared both the House and the Senate and was signed into law by President Donald Trump on Jan. 16. The legislation “requires the compensation of government employees for wages lost, work performed, or leave used during a lapse in appropriations that begins on or after December 22, 2018, and entitles excepted employees to use leave during a lapse in appropriations,” stated the White House.
Workers Run Out of Cash
Federal workers who are missing their paychecks are struggling with cash flow problems, and some have started to put their houses on the market, according to Jeremy Browne, a real estate agent with TTR Sotheby’s International Realty.
“With the current shutdown of the government, we are starting to see the effects in the residential real estate market,” Browne said.
“Many Americans are paycheck to paycheck, and when applying for a loan, borrowers must have two months of liquid reserves to qualify. Retirement funds do not count, so this is a problem,” he explained.
“In addition, verifications of employment, tax transcripts, and flood certifications are taking much longer. When you are trying to buy and sell and have a contract in place, this can have implications on earnest money deposits and folks losing out on their American dream.”
This week alone three federal employees told Browne that they were considering selling their houses due to rising uncertainty.
The federal government partially shut down on Dec. 22 after Congress failed to pass legislation to temporarily extend funding. Nine departments, about a quarter of the federal government have shuttered. Nearly 380,000 federal employees are furloughed as a result and 420,000 are working without pay.
House Democrats have been introducing appropriation bills that omit the Trump administration’s demand for $5.7 billion dollars in border-wall funding.
Both Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declared the wall a non-starter and refused to approve the border money, which amounts to 0.1 percent of total federal spending.
At the time of writing this report, the White House said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) were meeting “to see whether or not they can work out of the deadlock.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that Trump was willing to consider a 3-week funding bill “if there was a large down payment on the wall.”
As part of an effort to fix the nation’s ineffective budget process and prevent government shutdowns, three Republican senators introduced a bill last week that would discourage lawmakers from leaving Washington if they fail to pass a budget on time.
Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), James Lankford (R-Okla.), and David Perdue (R-Ga.) introduced the “No Budget, No Recess Act” on Jan. 17 to help responsibly fund the federal government on time.
“During a government shutdown, Congress and the White House should experience pain, not the American people,” Sen. Lankford said in a press release.
Congress is required to approve a budget resolution by the deadline of April 15 and all the appropriations bills by Oct. 1, which is the first day of the new fiscal year. The last time the government was funded on time was 1996.