Fedweek

Seattle, Jan. 16 - US Coast Guardsmen, who missed their first paycheck a day earlier during the partial government shutdown, walk between 45-foot response boats during their shift at Sector Puget Sound base tasked with security and search and rescue missions. The Coast Guard is part of DHS, which is unfunded during the shutdown, now in its fourth week, affecting about 25 percent of the federal government.

President Trump has signed into law a bill (S-24) that had quickly passed Congress to assure that federal employees who have been on unpaid furloughs due to the partial government shutdown will receive back pay.

That has been done in prior partial shutdowns, although usually as part of the bill ending the shutdown. However, with no end to this one in sight—and the second missed pay distribution now only a week away for employees in agencies whose funding has lapsed—enactment of the bill provides some reassurance for the meantime.

Employees who have remained on the job but unpaid always have been guaranteed, without the need for further action, that they will be paid for that time because the government has incurred an obligation to them.

However, for both them and for furloughed employees, back pay can’t be distributed until funding is restored for the affected agencies, which together account for 800,000 employees—about 420,000 of whom have continued to work because their jobs involve protection of life or property. That number is rising to about 460,000 with the callback to work of employees at various agencies, most numerously the IRS. However, they will remain in unpaid status.

Some of those who have been furloughed have applied for unemployment benefits, terms of which vary according to state law. When they ultimately receive back pay, they will have to repay those benefits.

Meanwhile, two bills have been introduced to benefit employees working without pay (although not those on furlough): S-113 would make a special appropriation to begin paying their salaries immediately; and HR-338 would allow them take withdrawals from their TSP accounts, without penalty, up to their regular biweekly pay, with the option of repaying the money into the TSP after they return to paid status.

Also, HR-545 would allow all employees who have been in unpaid status to take withdrawals from the TSP and other retirement savings without penalty, with the option of paying it back in later.

More on Federal Government Furlough Rules at ask.FEDweek.com