Government Shutdown - The Effect on Federal Employees

The partial government shutdown, which started on December 22, 2018, has had many effects on federal employees. According to CBS News, as a result of the government shutdown, approximately 380,000 federal employees have been furloughed - a temporary leave of absence without pay. The Senate Appropriations Committee estimates that the estimated 380,000 furloughed employees include about 86% of Department of Commerce employees, roughly 96% of NASA employees, about 52,000 IRS workers and approximately 95% of Housing and Urban Development employees.

CBS News has also reported that approximately 420,000 federal employees are working without pay. The Senate Appropriations Committee estimates that this number includes roughly 41,000 federal law enforcement and correctional officers, up to 88% of Department of Homeland Security employees, and up to 5,000 Forest Service firefighters.

Will These Federal Employees Get Paid?

According to the National Employment Law Project, some federal workers can apply for unemployment insurance, which may provide temporary relief. Although furloughed employees can apply for unemployment insurance, federal workers deemed to be "essential," cannot apply for unemployment insurance because they are required to report to work amid the government shutdown. Furloughed employees are entitled to a weekly payment as a percentage of their annual gross pay. However, each state decides its own cap on benefits. For example, in Oregon, the maximum weekly benefit is $624.00. A policy analyst for the National Employment Law Project noted that the average portion of wages replaced for furloughed employees during a government shutdown is one-third to half. Therefore, furloughed employees will not be compensated their full weekly paycheck, but they will receive some money to help pay for their loans, mortgages, food, etc.

In addition, on January 11, 2019, Congress agreed to provide back-pay to federal employees who have been furloughed as a result of the partial government shutdown. Although there is no assurance of back-pay, past practice during government shutdowns has been that furloughed employees are paid retroactively. The U.S. Department of Labor defines backpay as the sum of the difference between what the employee was paid and the amount he/she should have been paid. Thus, in reality, furloughed employees should be paid their normal paycheck, since they are not receiving any compensation during the shutdown.

It is important to note that a furloughed employee that applies for and receives unemployment insurance will have to repay any monies received if the employee is subsequently awarded backpay for that period of time.

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