The possibility of a government shutdown is looming at the end of the month. What does this mean for federal employees’ pay and benefits?
Federal Employees’ Pay During a Government Shutdown
Federal employees may be furloughed during a shutdown, but thanks to a 2019 law, they are guaranteed to receive back pay for the time that they are furloughed.
The Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019 (S. 24) requires federal employees who are furloughed or required to work during a lapse in appropriations resulting from a government shutdown to be compensated for the period of the lapse. Federal employees must be compensated on the earliest date possible after the shutdown ends.
This means that federal employees who are considered non-essential will still be furloughed during a shutdown and may potentially go without paychecks while their agencies are closed, so having an emergency fund would be wise from a financial planning standpoint to be prepared in case this happens, but the good news is that they will receive full back pay once the shutdown ends.
The law also states that excepted federal employees who are required to work during a shutdown shall be entitled to use leave. They will be paid for said leave at the earliest date possible after the lapse in appropriations ends, regardless of scheduled pay dates.
FEHB and FEDVIP During a Shutdown
Federal employees furloughed during a shutdown will maintain their coverage under both the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHB) and Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP). Any premiums that accrue during the shutdown will be taken out of the employees’ checks that are issued once the shutdown ends.
Additionally, federal employees who are furloughed will be designated to be in pay status for purposes of enrolling or changing enrollment in the FEHB Program. This represents a change from previous regulations under which federal employees who are furloughed normally cannot make enrollment changes to their FEHB options.
The Office of Personnel Management spelled out all of these health benefits changes in a rule it published in the Federal Register last year.
Why Does the Government “Shut Down?”
The concept of a government “shutdown” is relatively new and did not exist before 1980. Since the concept was enacted, government shutdowns have become something often used as political leverage when both parties spar over some issue and threaten to withhold funding for agencies, hoping the other side will cave. Obviously, this scenario leaves federal employees stuck in the middle who may end up at home furloughed and wondering when their next paycheck will arrive.
As FedSmith author Ralph Smith noted in a previous article, Benjamin Civiletti, the attorney general under President Jimmy Carter, is credited for inventing the concept of the modern shutdown. It is based on an interpretation of an 1870 law. For details, see Who Invented Government Shutdowns?.