Congress has agreed to provide back pay to federal employees who have been furloughed because of the partial government shutdown for the time they have been in unpaid status — now 21 days and counting.
The House on Friday approved the measure on a 411 to 7 vote, following Senate passage Thursday under a shortcut procedure called unanimous consent, in which a bill is deemed passed if no member objects.
During the brief Senate consideration, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said: “I had an opportunity to talk to President Trump a few moments ago and wanted to indicate to our colleagues that he will sign the bill that we have been discussing here to guarantee that government workers who have been displaced as a result of the shutdown will ultimately be compensated. So I want to ease their anxiety about that particular possibility.”
Officials said the bill could be presented quickly to the White House for signature as a stand-alone measure. In past shutdowns, such language more commonly has been attached to the broader measures that ultimately restored agency funding.
Some 800,000 federal employees across nine Cabinet departments and dozens of smaller agencies — out of a total federal workforce of 2.1 million — have been in unpaid status since Dec. 22. While they received a pay distribution two weeks ago for the biweekly pay period that had ended that day, starting Friday and into next week they are getting pay distributions devoid of pay, for the subsequent two weeks.
Of those in unpaid status, slightly more than half have remained at work because of the safety- or security-related nature of their jobs. They are assured of back pay when funding is restored for their agency.
For those on furlough, there is no assurance of back pay although the practice in past shutdowns has been that furloughed employees also were paid retroactively.
The House previously had voted in favor of providing back pay to furloughed employees twice, in separate bills it approved last week and Wednesday. The Senate had done the same in a bill it passed just before the shutdown, but that occurred in the previous Congress and a new vote was needed.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a main sponsor in the Senate, applauded the bill’s passage in a tweet but added that “as hundreds of thousands of federal employees get a paycheck for $0 today, they cannot afford to wait. Time to end the shutdown!”
“This bill is a critical step towards undoing some of the damage caused by the government shutdown,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who had sponsored a similar bill there. “While this legislation will provide federal employees with the certainty that they will eventually be paid, that cannot happen until the shutdown ends.”
The measure would apply only to furloughed federal employees. Separate legislation is pending in Congress calling for contractors to similarly pay their lower- and middle-income employees who have been furloughed because of the partial shutdown.