A Primer on Pay and Benefits During a Shutdown
The government probably won’t shut down next week. But if it does, we thought a refresher on how shutdowns affect federal employees’ pay and benefits would be useful.
Once again, we’re down to the wire: Congress’ top priority over the next week is to pass legislation keeping the government open past Dec. 11, the day the current continuing resolution expires. Lawmakers are talking about passing a CR-omnibus: a combination of an omnibus bill that funds most agencies through the end of fiscal 2015, and a short-term spending measure funding immigration-related activities. The two chambers also reportedly are close to getting the fiscal 2015 Defense authorization bill hammered out. That legislation sets the parameters for a pay raise for the military: the House version provides for a 1.8 percent raise next year while the Senate bill calls for 1 percent boost.
President Obama’s decision to issue an executive order delaying deportation for certain immigrants has put the government funding bill at risk. Although the GOP leadership in the House and Senate have said the government will not shut down, some Republicans want to use the spending measure as leverage to oppose what they view as Obama’s executive overreach.
The fiscal 2015 appropriations process started off strong, but has been stymied by controversial debates over amendments, the politics of an election year and immigration reform. The House so far has managed to pass seven of 12 fiscal 2015 spending bills; the Senate has not passed any yet. The House-passed fiscal 2015 appropriations bills are: Commerce, Justice, Science; Defense; Energy and Water; Financial Services and General Government; Legislative Branch; Military Construction and Veterans; and Transportation/Housing and Urban Development.
In the event we have a repeat of October 2013, when much of the government was shuttered for 16 days, here’s what federal workers should keep in mind regarding their pay and benefits:
- Salaries: Agencies must pay excepted and exempted employees for the days they work during a shutdown, though employees won’t see that pay until after the shutdown ends. If you’re furloughed during a shutdown, there is no guarantee you will be paid, since it’s up to Congress. However, Congress has always approved back pay for federal workers furloughed during shutdowns.
- Bonuses: Agencies can give out performance awards during a shutdown, which will be paid to employees when funds are available.
- Unemployment compensation: Furloughed federal workers could be eligible for unemployment compensation, depending on where they live.
- Health care: Furloughed employees are still covered under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program during a shutdown. As for employees’ biweekly contributions to their FEHBP premiums, that will accumulate during the shutdown and be deducted from their pay when they return to work. Employees cannot temporarily halt their FEHBP enrollment while in non-pay status. As for the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program, workers furloughed for two consecutive pay periods will receive a bill in the mail for their FEDVIP coverage and will have to pay it if they want to keep their insurance.
- Retirement benefits: Retirees in both the Civil Service Retirement System and the Federal Employees Retirement System will receive their annuity benefits during a shutdown. Furloughed employees enrolled in the Thrift Savings Plan will not contribute to their accounts during their nonpay status and their agency contributions will stop during that time. Once the shutdown is over and funds are available, contributions will resume and employees will receive retroactive benefits. Click here for TSP’s guidance during a government shutdown.
- Leave: Employees cannot use paid leave instead of taking an unpaid furlough day during a government shutdown. Previously scheduled sick or annual leave days will be canceled if the government closes.
Click here to read (or re-read) the full government shutdown guidance on federal pay and benefits from the Office of Personnel Management published in fall 2013.
So, federal workers shouldn’t panic. But it never hurts to be informed.