Update: June 25, 5:10 p.m.
The House of Representatives passed funding legislation June 25 that includes a provision to provide back pay for contract workers impacted by the government shutdown that ended in January 2019.
House voted 227 to 194 to pass the legislation along party lines, and the bill now moves to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it likely faces a tougher road to passage.
Federal contractors may see compensation for wages lost during a government shutdown for the first time, a return only federal employees received previously.
The House Appropriations Committee announced June 11 that a collection of five planned appropriations bills would also include the Fair Compensation for Low-Wage Contractor Employees Act, which was introduced as a standalone piece of legislation in the House and Senate in January 2019.
From Dec. 22, 2018, to Jan. 25, 2019, the federal government experienced its longest shutdown in history, as lawmakers struggled to come to a consensus over funding for a border wall.
Federal employees were guaranteed back pay for that time, but some federal contractors have since told Congress that they were unable to pay some employees and faced the choice of either firing employees or going out of business.
“Contractor workers and their families shouldn’t be forced to go without pay due to a government shutdown they did nothing to cause,” said Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., who led the original Senate bill, in a news release.
“These contractor employees work shoulder to shoulder with federal employees and perform jobs that are critical to the operations of our government like food service, security and custodial work. These are often low-wage jobs that require workers to live paycheck to paycheck — and the shutdown left contractors struggling with unpaid rent and other mounting bills that many of these workers still cannot afford without back pay.”
The bill would require federal agencies to provide contractors with the funds to give to “any employee who was furloughed or laid off, or who was not working, who experienced a reduction of hours, or who experienced a reduction in compensation, as a result of the lapse in appropriations.”
The bill would also restore paid leave taken by employees and limit the amount of back pay available to each employee to the equivalent of a $965 weekly salary.
“The federal government relies on these hardworking men and women, our security professionals, our food service workers, our custodial workers, to keep our government buildings running. By including back pay in the upcoming spending package, we are one step closer to finally giving our federal contractor employees what they are owed,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., who led the original House legislation, in a news release.
The House is expected to consider the five appropriations bills beginning next week.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.