With just days remaining until federal employees at unfunded agencies miss their second straight pay check, an idea to compensate at least some of them promptly appears to be gaining traction on Capitol Hill.
Two weeks ago, Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced the Shutdown Fairness Act (S. 113), which would make sure federal workers at unfunded agencies who are currently working without pay will get their pay checks on time, instead of after the government reopens. The measure would not compensate furloughed employees, although last week President Trump signed legislation to provide them with back pay after agencies reopen.
“All employees required to work during the shutdown to perform national security and other critical functions should receive paychecks on a current basis,” Collins said in a statement. “It is not fair to force employees to work and not pay them. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees and their families are being harmed by the partial government shutdown, and I am continuing to work with my colleagues and the White House to bring it to an end as quickly as possible.”
Jan. 18 marked the end of the second full pay period of the government shutdown. If Congress cannot reach an agreement on how to fund the government this week, roughly 800,000 employees, of which at least 420,000 are working without pay, will miss their second straight pay check.
Although the bill was introduced with four other Republican cosponsors, that tally had grown to 20 by Tuesday. And although he is not yet an official sponsor, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., threw his support behind the idea in multiple news interviews.
“The fact is, since we have already agreed to pay them when we reopen, why shouldn’t we at least go ahead and, even if we are shut down, pay these federal workers come Thursday, so they don’t have to incur additional pain and suffering?” Warner said Friday.
Warner repeated that sentiment on “Meet the Press” on Sunday. And on Tuesday, Warner introduced the Stop Shutdowns Transferring Unnecessary Pain and Inflicting Damage in the Coming Years Act, an effort to prevent future government shutdowns, similar to legislation introduced by Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., and others last week.
Lankford’s bill would institute an automatic continuing resolution at existing spending levels in the event that Congress fails to approve an appropriations package, although the approved spending would decrease by 1 percent after 90 days, and an extra 1 percent for each 30 days thereafter. But Warner’s bill would maintain existing spending levels for all unfunded agencies, and end appropriations for Congress, its associated agencies and offices, and for the Executive Office of the President.
“The Stop STUPIDITY Act takes the aggressive but necessary step of forcing the president and Congress to do the jobs they were elected to do,” Warner said in a statement. “It is disturbing that the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of workers are at the mercy of dysfunction in Washington.”
Labor Secretary Alex Acosta has rejected an effort by District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser to allow federal employees working without pay during the partial government shutdown to be eligible for unemployment benefits while agencies remain shuttered.
On Monday, Bowser sent a letter to Acosta requesting the change in policy. Currently, furloughed federal workers and idle contractors in a number of states can apply for unemployment, although they are expected to return the money when they return to work and Congress has approved back pay. But excepted employees, whose pay is guaranteed once the government reopens, cannot apply for unemployment.
In the letter, Bowser said it is unfair that employees working without pay are effectively in worse financial straits despite arguably sacrificing more during a shutdown.
“These federal workers are providing the nation and our region with vital services such as public safety,” she wrote. “Without a steady paycheck or unemployment benefits, hardworking federal workers and their families are forced to make difficult decisions: pay the mortgage or buy groceries; pay for a doctor’s appointment or pay to keep the lights on. These are decisions no one should have to make.”
But on Thursday, Bowser reported that her request was denied and decried the decision. She noted that in Washington, D.C., alone, more than 7,500 furloughed federal workers and contractors had already filed for unemployment. That number increases to roughly 9,000 federal workers, not including contractors, in the D.C. metro area.
“Federal workers and their families continue to pay the highest price for this unnecessary and unprecedented shutdown,” Bowser said in a statement. “It is unconscionable for the Trump administration to acknowledge that these individuals are working without pay and with no end in sight, but will not make the smallest effort to help them by allowing states to offer unemployment insurance benefits.”
The line between federal workers who are furloughed and excepted is shifting, as agencies like the IRS recall significant numbers of workers to restore services despite the lapse in appropriations. Observers have been vocal in questioning the legality of such decisions, and the constantly loosening interpretation of what constitutes the protection of life and property is the subject of a lawsuit by the National Treasury Employees Union.
Friday marked the end of the second full pay period of the shutdown, which is in its 28th day. Agencies will be required to send out new furlough notices next week, as the shutdown passes the 30-day mark. If a deal to reopen the government is not reached by Tuesday, employees of unfunded agencies likely will miss their second straight paycheck.
It’s time for our annual look ahead at the best dates to retire in the next year. As always, your retirement coverage under the Civil Service Retirement System (including CSRS Offset) or the Federal Employees Retirement System (including transfers to FERS) will be an important factor in choosing the best date.
Some of the best dates to retire for CSRS employees occur when the end of the month (or one of the first three days of the month) coincides with the end of a leave period. This allows a final leave accrual (remember, annual leave is paid in a lump sum after you separate) and also ensures that the day after your separation is the first day you begin accruing CSRS retirement benefits.
The best dates for CSRS in 2019 that will allow a retirement at the end of the month (or within the first three days of a month) and also at or near the end of a leave period will be Jan. 3, Feb. 1, March 1, March 30, Aug. 2, and Aug. 31. Jan. 3, 2020, would also work, because it’s within the 2019 leave year.
The following dates would also work for CSRS, but would not earn a final leave accrual since they are not at the end of a pay period: May 3, May 31, June 30, July 3, Sept. 3, Oct. 3, Oct. 31, Nov. 1, Nov. 30, and Dec. 3.
All immediate, optional FERS retirement benefits start the first day following the month of retirement. This means, for example, that regardless of whether you retire on Oct. 1, 2, 15, or 31, your first FERS retirement benefit will be paid on Dec. 1 for the month of November. Your salary will cease on the last day of your federal employment. If your goal is to have your retirement benefit begin in October, then Sept. 30 would be the best date for you. FERS employees should focus on choosing a date at the end of the month, even if it is a Saturday or a Sunday, since these days can be included in the computation of service credit.
Retiring at the end of a leave period can be good, even though your salary will stop on that date and your retirement won’t start until the first day of the following month. This is because you will be paid your salary for the days that you worked during that last month, which could be more valuable than the retirement benefit you would forfeit. Because the benefit is computed very differently under FERS than CSRS, be sure to consider the tradeoff of salary for retirement benefit when you are choosing an end-of-leave-period retirement date that isn’t near the end of the month.
Also, remember that your payroll office pays your salary two weeks behind and the Office of Personnel Management may take a few months to process your retirement application. So your first retirement payment may not arrive on the first day of the month. You may receive several interim retirement payments from OPM until your claim is finalized and monthly payments begin.
Is it important to you to receive a large lump sum payout of your annual leave? If the answer is yes, the end of the leave year is the time to plan your departure. FERS employees who have a substantial amount of creditable service would benefit from a Dec. 31, 2018 or Dec. 31, 2019 departure and CSRS employees might choose Jan. 3, 2019 or Jan. 3, 2020. Although this won’t be the end of the leave year, it will allow 25 leave accruals and receipt of your first retirement benefit for the month of January (payable on Feb. 1).
If maximizing your lump sum annual leave payout is not that important to you, then remember you will be paid for your accumulated and accrued annual leave regardless of the exact date you retire.
Are you ready to explore some specific dates in 2019? Follow the link Below to Request your Free Federal Retirement Review and we will also send you the
Early next week will mark a new set of key deadlines in the partial government shutdown, with significant implications for the more than 800,000 affected federal employees.
By Monday, the shutdown will have dragged past the 30-day marker. That means the furlough notices most federal workers currently sent home without pay received on Dec. 21 will expire. Due to a quirk in federal statute, furlough notices can only last for a month. Most of the 300,000 employees still furloughed received a message at the start of the shutdown that read: “This furlough is not expected to exceed 30 days. Therefore, it expires on Jan. 21.”
According to guidance from the Office of Personnel Management, agencies should treat a shutdown passing the 30-day mark as resetting the clock.
“When the shutdown furlough goes beyond 30 days, agencies should treat it as a second shutdown furlough and issue another adverse action or furlough notice,” OPM said, which also clarified that reductions in force would not take place as part of any shutdown.
OPM did not respond to requests to confirm whether the second round of furlough notices would go out, whether it was coordinating those efforts with federal agencies or how the notices would be communicated to employees, instead referring questions to the Office of Management and Budget. OMB also declined to answer any questions, referring questions back to OPM.
Tuesday will bring another key day for federal employees, as multiple White House officials have said it is the deadline by which the government must be reopened to prevent feds from missing a second paycheck. In criticizing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s, D-Calif., planned trip overseas to war zones—which has since been canceled after President Trump revoked the military aircraft Pelosi and the congressional delegation planned to use—White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders noted that Pelosi was not scheduled to return until Tuesday.
“We want to keep her in Washington,” Sanders told reporters on Thursday. “If she leaves, she guarantees that the second round of paychecks to workers won’t go out.”
Most of the more than 800,000 federal employees affected by the ongoing shutdown are not scheduled to receive their next paycheck until Friday, Jan. 25, but federal agencies need a few days to certify time and attendance sheets and recall workers who process them. All employees, both those furloughed and those working due to exceptions and exemptions, are guaranteed back pay. Congress has also instructed agencies to make employees whole “at the earliest date possible after the lapse in appropriations ends,” regardless of the timing of the next pay period or when the next round of paychecks is scheduled to go out.
Federal employees first missed their paychecks on Jan. 11, a date many lawmakers in both parties initially saw as a key date and potential turning point. As it turns out, it yielded no developments.
The second round of furlough notices, and missed paychecks, is all but assured. Both chambers of Congress have canceled scheduled recesses for next week, but members of the Senate have largely left Washington, D.C., and no votes are scheduled. They have been put on notice, however, to stay available for a quick return if a deal to reopen government is reached. The House on Friday adjourned until Tuesday.
If you need to know some details on how you may get some penalty free loans to help offset until this gets put into the past, please reach out to us.