Federal employees would get another paid holiday for the Lunar New Year if legislation that has been reintroduced in the House were to become law.
Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-NY) reintroduced the Lunar New Year Day Act (H.R. 430) which would make the Lunar New Year a federal holiday in the United States. It was previously introduced a year ago around the time of the last Lunar New Year holiday.
Meng said in a statement:
Lunar New Year is one of the most significant holidays for the Asian American community. Dating back over 4,000 years, today it is celebrated by millions of Asian Americans and many non-Asian Americans in the United States. I have been championing efforts to celebrate and recognize this holiday since I was a member of the New York State Assembly. I was thrilled to help New York City be among the first municipalities to make Lunar New Year a public school holiday, and I am honored to continue leading this effort at the federal level. Asian Americans are the fastest growing ethnic group in our country, and it is important that our history and culture be recognized as part of this nation’s shared culture. My federal holiday bill is about more than just a day off from work or school. It is about educating people on cultural practices and expanding experiences beyond one’s individual heritage. I look forward to shepherding this bill through the House and would like to wish everybody celebrating in Queens and around the world a happy, healthy, and prosperous Year of the Rabbit!
Lunar New Year became a school holiday in New York in 2015 when then New York City mayor Bill de Blasio made it a public school holiday. It is also a school holiday in San Francisco and a state holiday in California as of 2022.
If it were to become a federal holiday, the dates that it falls on would vary, so federal employees would presumably get a paid holiday on the actual date of the holiday, or the day before or after it if it were to fall on a weekend as is now done with current holidays. Lunar New Year was on January 22 this year, but last year it was February 1. Since it was on a Sunday this year, had it been a federal holiday, the observed holiday would have been Monday.
What is the Lunar New Year?
According to the National Museum of Asian Art, “Lunar New Year is a celebration of the arrival of spring and the beginning of a new year on the lunisolar calendar. It is the most important holiday in China, and it is also widely celebrated in South Korea, Vietnam, and countries with a significant overseas Chinese population.”
For reference, about 20 million people (approximately 6% of the United States population) is Asian according to the 2020 Census. There are 130,354 federal employees in the United States who identify as Asian as of the end of fiscal year 2022 according to the Office of Personnel Management. That is out of 1,970,993 federal employees in the country (6.6%)
Lunar New Year, also known as the Chinese New Year, dates back as much as 3,500 years. According to China Highlights, one legend about the origin of the holiday states that a mythical creature named Nian would appear on the evening of the new year and eat crops, livestock, and people. One man figured out that Nian was scared of loud noises and the color red, so this led to putting out red lanterns and scrolls as well as using firecrackers to ward the beast away.
Growing List of Holidays for Federal Employees
Federal employees currently have 11 standard paid federal holidays. This number grew in 2021 when a new law was passed establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
In some years, federal employees get additional paid holidays, such as for an extra day off at Christmas if a president grants one, or federal employees in the Washington, DC area get a day off for inauguration day following a presidential election. 2021 was one such year as denoted in the list of 2021 federal holidays when inauguration day was held on January 20, 2021.
If other recent legislative proposals were to eventually become law, federal employees could have as many as 17 paid holidays in a typical year. Besides Lunar New Year, among the recent proposals in Congress to create new federal holidays are:
Substantial Cost of Federal Holidays
While the rationale for creating holidays is often quoted in press releases of lawmakers seeking to win favor with one group or another, the reality is that federal holidays also come with a significant financial cost.
Forbes recently estimated the total cost to taxpayers for each federal holiday is $818 million. In reality, it is probably higher because that figure is just within federal agencies in the Executive Branch and does not include the Postal Service or the military, not to mention inflation has risen rapidly in the two years since that article was published.
For 11 federal holidays, the total cost using the figure from Forbes comes to $8,998,000,000. For 12 federal holidays (adding the Lunar New Year), the total grows to $9,816,000,000. If the list were to grow to 17, the total balloons to nearly $14 billion ($13,906,000,000). That figure is even higher adjusted for inflation; $13,906,000,000 is over $15 billion ($15,018,859,763.07) in 2023 according to usinflationcalculator.com.