President Signs Back Pay Legislation as Federal Workers Seek Financial Relief

On Wednesday, President Trump signed back pay legislation for the 800,000 federal employees who are furloughed or working without pay during the current partial government shutdown. The legislation, entitled the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act or S. 24, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in both houses of Congress.

The back pay legislation passed by a unanimous voice vote in the Senate late last week. On Friday, the House voted 411-7 to pass the legislation.

The passage of this legislation comes just days after a D.C. judge ruled that furloughed federal workers who are not getting paid because of the government shutdown must continue to work without pay.

The National Treasury Employees Union and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association had sued for a temporary restraining order that would prevent workers from being forced to work without pay. This lawsuit is similar to one initiated by Bureau of Prison employees just days after the shutdown began.

According to reports from the Washington Post, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said it would be “profoundly irresponsible” for him to issue an order that would allow all the federal workers currently required to go to work to return home and leave their positions vacant.

"At best it would create chaos and confusion,” Leon is reported to have said. “At worst it could be catastrophic . . . I’m not going to put people’s lives at risk.”

To grant temporary relief for workers struggling to make ends meet without a paycheck, financial services company USAA donated $15 million to Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, a nonprofit that assists its members in the Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps, and Public Health Corps facing financial issues.

USAA also plans to offer low interest loans to members to supplement some of their lost income.

U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Karl L. Schultz said in a letter to Coast Guard employees, “I am encouraged to share that Coast Guard Mutual Assistance (CGMA) has received a $15 million donation from USAA to support our people in need. In partnership with CGMA, the American Red Cross will assist in the distribution of these funds to our military and civilian workforce requiring assistance. I am grateful for the outpouring of support across the country, particularly in local communities, for our men and women. It is a direct reflection of the American public’s sentiment towards their United States Coast Guard; they recognize the sacrifice that you and your family make in service to your country.”

Nate Catura, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), wrote a letter to the USAA president urging him to expand these low interest loan offers to federal law enforcement, many of whom are working without pay or on furlough during the shutdown.

Catura wrote, “By expanding eligibility to our law enforcement members, you will ensure that their safety will not be jeopardized by being otherwise distracted with worry about their financial obligations. Our law enforcement officers are either veterans or members of law enforcement agencies that you have invited to become USAA members.”

Also this week, President Trump has said he will be calling back about 40,000 furloughed federal employees from the Internal Revenue Service to file tax returns without pay.

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