House OKs back pay

State un­em­ploy­ment claims up as fed­eral shut­down con­tin­ues

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Jeff Barker

WASH­ING­TON — The U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives on Fri­day over­whelm­ingly ap­proved leg­is­la­tion — pushed by Mary­land law­mak­ers — to guar­an­tee back pay for hun­dreds of thou­sands of fed­eral em­ploy­ees as the par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down ap­proached record length.

Mean­while, the Mary­land la­bor depart­ment said it has re­ceived 2,550 un­em­ploy­ment i nsurance ben­e­fit ap­pli­ca­tions re­lated to the shut­down t hrough

Thurs­day, more than dou­ble the fig­ure of a week ear­lier.

The Se­nate had al­ready passed the back pay mea­sure, which was spon­sored by Mary­land Democrats Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen.

It is ex­pected to be signed by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

The shut­down en­tered its 21st day Fri­day, match­ing the long­est pre­vi­ous shut­down: a 21-day clo­sure that ended Jan. 6, 1996, dur­ing Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. With many law­mak­ers leav­ing Wash­ing­ton for the week­end, there were no signs of progress in break­ing the cur­rent fund­ing stale­mate.

The shut­down is caused by a dis­pute be­tween Trump and Congress over his re­quest for $5.7 bil­lion to fund a wall on the U.S. bor­der with Mex­ico.

The pres­i­dent low­ered ex­pec­ta­tions Fri­day about whether he was close to declar­ing a na­tional emer­gency to get the money to build a wall.

The “easy so­lu­tion is for me to call a na­tional emer­gency ... but I’m not go­ing to

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do it so fast,” Trump said.

By­pass­ing Congress’ con­sti­tu­tional con­trol of the na­tion’s purse strings would lead to le­gal chal­lenges and bi­par­ti­san al­le­ga­tions of ex­ec­u­tive over­reach.

Trump said his lawyers have told him the ac­tion would with­stand le­gal scru­tiny “100 per­cent.”

Af­fected work­ers missed their first pay­check Fri­day. In a shut­down, pay­checks for fed­eral em­ploy­ees are tem­po­rar­ily sus­pended and retroac­tive pay must be ap­proved by Congress.

“While this gives them much-needed cer­tainty, they shouldn’t be forced to go with­out a pay­check at all,” Van Hollen tweeted. “Let’s end the shut­down and re­open the gov­ern­ment!”

The House vote was 411-7. All of the mem­bers of the Mary­land del­e­ga­tion voted for the mea­sure.

The bill ap­plies to “lapses in ap­pro­pria- tions” in gen­eral — not just the cur­rent shut­down. It says work­ers are to be paid “at the em­ployee's stan­dard rate of pay, at the ear­li­est date pos­si­ble af­ter the lapse in ap­pro­pri­a­tions ends, re­gard­less of sched­uled pay dates.”

Mary­land par­tic­u­larly feels the sting of shut­downs be­cause of its prox­im­ity to Wash­ing­ton. About 145,000 fed­eral jobs are based in Mary­land, and many more state res­i­dents work for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

“Many fed­eral work­ers live pay­check to pay­check,” Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings, a Bal­ti­more Demo­crat, said Fri­day on the House floor.

“They have mort­gages and car loans to pay, day care ex­penses to cover, and food to put on the ta­ble. And even while they strug­gle to pay these bills, fur­loughed em­ploy­ees face the stress and anx­i­ety of not know­ing whether or not they will be paid when the shut­down ends. The least we can do is to re­lieve that uncer­tainty.”

House Ma­jor­ity Leader Steny Hoyer, a South­ern Mary­land Demo­crat whose dis­trict in­cludes about 62,000 fed­eral em­ploy­ees, called the bill a pri­or­ity.

“No one should have to go with­out a pay­check just be­cause the pres­i­dent thinks he can bully Congress into giv­ing him what he wants — tak­ing them hostage in re­turn for a ran­som of agree­ing with him,” Hoyer said on the floor.

Af­fected fed­eral agen­cies in­clude the de­part­ments of Agri­cul­ture, Com­merce, Home­land Se­cu­rity, Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment, In­te­rior, Jus­tice, State and Trea­sury. About 800,000 em­ploy­ees are fur­loughed or work­ing with­out pay.

A week ago, Mary­land of­fi­cials said they had re­ceived 972 un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance ben­e­fit ap­pli­ca­tions.

The weekly ben­e­fit pro­vided by in Mary­land ranges from $50 to $430. The size of the ben­e­fit de­pends on the worker’s salary.

The un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance pro­gram is funded mostly through state and fed­eral pay­roll taxes paid by em­ploy­ers. To be el­i­gi­ble, work­ers must have been dis­missed or fur­loughed and be avail­able for full-time work.

If the fed­eral gov­ern­ment grants back pay, the re­cip­i­ents will have to re­pay any un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits.

Thou­sands of gov­ern­ment con­trac­tors in the area are also af­fected by the shut­down.

Van Hollen, Cardin and other Demo­cratic sen­a­tors are urg­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to di­rect fed­eral agen­cies to work with low- and mid­dle-in­come con­tract work­ers on pro­vid­ing back pay. Many say they don’t know if their em­ploy­ers will pay them the in­come they are not re­ceiv­ing dur­ing the shut­down.

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