Ten days into a partial government shutdown, the cash squeeze is about to get real for thousands of federal workers.
Because of lags in pay cycles, many government workers have yet to actually see a reduction in their compensation. But as post-shutdown paydays arrive Friday for a large chunk of the federal workforce, government employees are bracing for a sudden drop in income.
“The biggest problem I have is that the bills are still there,” said Gwendolyn Ross, who works in the accounting department of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Miami Beach station.
She was sent home on an unpaid furlough last Tuesday once the shutdown began. She expects to get a direct deposit for six days of work — through Sept. 30 — and no money for the four days of the pay period that began Oct. 1, the first day of the shutdown.
“That’s substantial,” Ross, who lives in Homestead, said of the 40 percent cut in her pay. “I either have to take out a loan, or use my savings. In Florida, that’s not a good idea, because you never know when a hurricane may hit.”
Ross’ cash-flow squeeze helps illustrate the consequences of the ongoing impasse over spending in Washington. While Ross and other workers were caught up in the shutdown, they still haven’t felt the full brunt of it.
The Office of Management and Budget said in a statement that the two-week paychecks for many civilian employees on Friday will reflect only the work they did in the last week of September, before the shutdown. Not all workers get paid on the same day, but Friday is a payday for many of them — and it will mean partial paychecks.
For workers affected by the shutdown’s halt in funding, “their pay will only cover 9/22-9/30, whether they are excepted or not,” OMB said in an emailed statement. The “excepted” workers, who used to be called “essential,” are those whose jobs have been deemed necessary to protect life and property.
The Defense Department over the weekend reinterpreted its rules on essential workers to include most of its furloughed civilians, meaning 350,000 of the original 800,000 federal employees sent home without pay were being brought back to their jobs. At Doral’s Southern Command military headquarters, a spokeswoman said almost all of the 100 furloughed civilians were back at their posts this week.
The shutdown began when House Republicans declined to maintain existing spending levels past Oct. 1, the end of the government’s budget year. While GOP leaders pushed for changes or delays in President Barack Obama’s healthcare program in exchange for a funding bill, Democrats and the White House refused to bargain.
There were some mildly encouraging signs Wednesday: Congressional leaders on both sides met to discuss possible resolutions, as business groups — including the National Retail Federation — step up pressure on the GOP to relent. Obama invited all 232 House Republicans to meet with him in the White House on Thursday, and the GOP sent word that 18 would attend.
The Republican-led House has passed several bills to resume funding for various government functions, including disease research and veterans programs. But the Democratic-led Senate has rejected the piecemeal approach. Meanwhile, the Obama administration and business leaders are warning of a potential catastrophe if Congress doesn’t vote by Oct. 17 to extend the nation’s borrowing limits.