Legislation Guaranteeing Back Pay for Federal Employees Expected to Become Law

Congress has passed legislation that will grant back pay to employees on furlough and working without pay during this government shutdown and any future government shutdowns that may take place. President Trump has indicated that he will sign the legislation. While this brings some relief to federal workers affected by the shutdown, Congress is still working to ensure contractors and other impacted groups receive compensation.

The Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019 (S. 24) passed by a unanimous voice vote in the Senate Thursday evening. On Friday, the House voted 411-7 to pass the legislation.

During past shutdowns, Congress would vote following each lapse to provide back pay for employees. Following the 2013 shutdown, both chambers unanimously passed legislation to grant back pay for federal workers.  The act currently before the president would make guaranteed back pay a standard during any shutdown.

The seven lawmakers who voted against the bill were Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Rep. Andy Briggs (R-Ariz.), Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Rep. Glen Grothman (R-Wisc.), Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), and Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.).

Most of these members are part of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative lawmakers who tend to reject legislation increasing federal spending.

Rep. Roy issued a statement last week which explains, “There is zero question that we should pay federal workers. I do not, however, support putting federal spending on autopilot indefinitely or authorizing future pay irrespective of the circumstances. I would gladly have voted to pay federal employees at the end of the current lapse, but we should do so methodically and always ensure we are managing the budget wisely."

Rep. Gosar’s office similarly warned that this legislation may encourage shutdowns in the future by removing the greatest incentive to prevent them- providing federal workers with their fair pay.

But some argue this legislation has not gone far enough. While federal workers are often the topic of conversation when discussing the impact of a shutdown, federal contractors have also been hit hard by a lack of work.

34 Democratic lawmakers signed a letter to Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget Russell Vought calling for compensation for low- and middle-income federal contractors.

The letter explains, “Providing back pay to these low- and middle-income contractor employees who are furloughed by their employers is the right thing to do, and it is in the federal government’s best interest to provide funding to the extent necessary to ensure that contractors deliver back pay to their workers. Contractor employees cannot afford the chaos and uncertainty of government shutdown, and some of these workers may seek other jobs if their back pay is not provided to compensate for shutdown-related losses.”

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has introduced legislation to provide compensation for federal contractors who have been placed on unpaid leave as a result of the shutdown, such as janitorial and kitchen staff.

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