Editorial: Give federal workers some shutdown relief

The Detroit News

The federal shutdown, the longest in U.S. history, has lasted for more than 30 days, with no end in sight. Most Americans haven’t felt negative impacts — yet — but the 800,000 federal workers who have gone without pay certainly are feeling the pain. And it’s not right they pay the price for government’s dysfunction.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget analyst Tricia Paff, of Dexter, during a protest in front of the McNamara Federal Building in Detroit on Thursday

Some lawmakers are stepping in, with the prospect of aid for these federal workers, about half of whom are required to report to work even though they aren’t getting paid. The other half are on furlough.

These public employees have the promise of back pay once the government re-opens. That doesn’t help them pay their bills in the meantime. And there are many reports about how government workers — including TSA and other important airport personnel — are struggling to make ends meet.

The best solution is for Democrats and President Donald Trump to iron out their differences and stop the political posturing. Yet that doesn’t appear close to happening, after a deal Trump offered over the weekend on immigration got ignored by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi since he’s still demanding funding for a border wall.

New Michigan Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, is joining other members of the House to extend these unpaid workers a lifeline. She’s also been forgoing her pay and donating it to charity while the shutdown continues, which is something all members of Congress ought to be doing.

On Monday, Slotkin joined as a co-sponsor of the Shutdown Relief Act. The bill would give federal workers the option of withdrawing money from their retirement accounts without penalty.

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin

While most financial advisers would cringe at raiding retirement savings, this plan has caveats in place that should prevent long-term harm to earnings.

“As a former federal employee myself for 14 years, I’m proud to sign on as an original co-sponsor of the bipartisan Shutdown Relief Act, which would ease the burden on public servants who work every day to put country over party, and through no fault of their own are struggling to make ends meet during the shutdown,” Slotkin said in a statement.

Slotkin has a background with the CIA, along with the Pentagon and State Department.

According to her press release, current law allows federal workers under 59 1/2 to withdraw funds from their 401(k) — the Thrift Savings Plan — through taking a loan or demonstrating financial hardship. Money taken out for hardship is still subject to a 10 percent penalty.

The bill would give workers the option to withdraw from these accounts without penalty to compensate for missed pay during the shutdown. They would then be required to repay the funds within 180 days.

Republican National Committee spokesperson Michael Joyce criticized Slotkin’s offering, along with other comments from Michigan Democrats, saying they are choosing resistance to Trump rather than actual relief for federal workers.

But Slotkin says she’s open to bipartisan solutions and compromise. More lawmakers should join her.