Workers unpaid after shutdown dread what’s next
More than two weeks after the end of the longest government shutdown in U.S history, many federal workers still have not received their back pay or have only gotten a fraction of what they are owed as government agencies struggle with payroll glitches and other delays.
And even as they scramble to catch up on unpaid bills and to repay unemployment benefits, the prospect of another shutdown looms next week.
“President Trump stood in the Rose Garden at the end of the shutdown and said, ‘We will make sure that you guys are paid immediately.’ … And here it is, it’s almost two weeks later,” said Michael Walter, who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture food safety inspection service in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and only got his paycheck Wednesday. He said two co-workers told him they still had received nothing.
The government has been short on details about how many people are waiting to be paid.
Bradley Bishop, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, said the Trump administration had taken “unprecedented steps to ensure federal employees impacted by the shutdown received back pay within a week.”
The USDA said in a statement that pay was its top priority. Asked to confirm that some people hadn’t been paid, USDA spokeswoman Amanda Heitkamp replied, “I’m not sure.”
Donna Zelina’s husband works for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in South Dakota. He has received only a portion of his back pay, and does not expect to be fully paid until Tuesday.
Zelina said she called her creditors, but they wouldn’t work with her. Her husband’s car loan went into forbearance, causing them to rack up fees. “I don’t think people really understand what people do in government and just assume that everybody … makes millions of dollars,” she said.
A spokesman for the Department of Interior, which handles payroll for more than five dozen government offices, did not answer when asked how many workers were due back pay, but said a “small group of employees” had not received anything.
The Census Bureau acknowledged Wednesday that about 850 employees nationwide have yet to receive back pay or have only gotten a fraction of what they’re owed. A spokesman said they expected most of those workers to be paid by Friday.
Other affected agencies include the Federal Aviation Administration, where two unions representing FAA workers said their members had not yet received all of their back pay.
Doug Church of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said members who worked during the shutdown had not gotten overtime, which he said was a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
David Verardo, a union local president, said he was still owed $2,000 and estimated that the 1,000 workers his union represents at the National Science Foundation in Alexandria, Virginia, are each due between $1,200 and $3,000.
In addition to the pay delays, workers are struggling with issues like navigating the bureaucracy of paying back unemployment benefits and the looming question of whether there would be another shutdown after Feb. 15.
Trish Binkley, a tax examiner at the Internal Revenue Service in Kansas City, Missouri, is setting aside money, including her tax refund and an emergency loan she got, in case of another shutdown.
She received two unemployment checks of $288 each during the shutdown before getting a letter informing her she was ineligible for the benefits – even though she had been told she qualified. Binkley has paid the money back.
She and others have grown frustrated at seeing social media posts that downplayed the impact of the shutdown.
“This was not a vacation. Vacations are supposed to be fun and relaxing. You have money to go do fun things or whatever. This was one of the most stressful periods of my life,” Binkley said.
The shutdown motivated Cheryl Inzunza Blum to re-evaluate her career as a government contract lawyer representing immigrants in federal court in Tucson, Arizona. She has not been paid since before the shutdown began.
She enrolled in an online course in international relations at Harvard Extension School.
“I did it because I don’t want to go through this again,” she said. “I want to carve out another career, I really do.”