The Cable

What you need to know in case of a shutdown

The Cable has you covered in case the federal government shuts down on midnight, April 8. If you’re not one of the lucky “essential” personnel chosen to work through the shutdown, here are some tips for how to handle your time off and what it means for your benefits. “The President has made it clear ...

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The Cable has you covered in case the federal government shuts down on midnight, April 8. If you’re not one of the lucky “essential” personnel chosen to work through the shutdown, here are some tips for how to handle your time off and what it means for your benefits.

“The President has made it clear that he does not want a government shutdown, and the Administration is willing and ready to work day and night to find a solution that all sides can agree with,” the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) said in its latest update on the potential shutdown. “That said, given the realities of the calendar, prudent management requires we plan for an orderly shutdown should the negotiations not be completed by the end of the current continuing resolution.”

All employees who are not deemed “essential” must stop working altogether during a shutdown. If you are essential but were planning on taking paid leave during the shutdown, that leave will be cancelled. Essential personnel must work but will not be paid until an appropriations bill is passed and signed. Congress gets to decide if furloughed workers will ever get their back pay.

All federal employees will continue to receive their health benefits for 12 months during a shutdown, but since there will be no deductions to pay the premiums for long-term care, dental, and vision coverage, OPM is working on guidance for how to keep that coverage intact. That guidance should be released on Friday, but some details on how the shutdown impacts benefit are here.

So who is an essential employee? Well, each agency gets to decide for itself, but OPM defines them as personnel who fit any of the following categories: 1) performing emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property, 2) performing minimal activities as necessary to execute an orderly suspension of agency operations related to non-excepted activities, or 3) performing certain other types of excepted work. That broad definition gives each agency a lot of wiggle room to determine which of its employees work through the shutdown.

Furloughed personnel could be eligible for unemployment benefits, but that depends on the state the employee resides in. Some information on that can be found here.

Guess who won’t be furloughed? Members of Congress, the president, and presidential appointees, according to the Congressional Research Service’s (CRS) primer on what happens during a shutdown.

The 1995 shutdown, which lasted from Nov. 13 to 19, resulted in the furlough of over 800,000 federal employees. There was another partial shutdown from Dec. 15, 1995, until Jan 6, 1996, during which about 285,000 employees stopped working, according to CRS.

CRS defines “essential personnel” to include those who provide for U.S. national security, including the conduct of foreign relations, are required to work under multiyear contracts that are not impacted by the shutdown, or conduct essential activities to the extent that they protect life and property.

An April 1 CRS primer on how the shutdown will effect the Department of Defense can be found here.

The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) has set up a “shutdown information center” that has lots of specific information on how federal employees can mitigate the effects of a shutdown.

“Lessons learned from the shutdowns in the 1990s indicate that most problems were financial in nature,” said AFSA. “Members who do not have overdraft privileges or lines of credit with their banks may want to set them up as a precaution. Remember that if you have a mortgage that is paid automatically, you need to have sufficient funds in your account to cover your mortgage payment.”

According to Diplopundit, “AFSA will hold a rally at the Edward J Kelly Park near the 21st Street Entrance of the State Department on Friday April 8, 2011, at noon. The theme will be ‘Let Us Serve America!'”

And AidWatch has a handy graph for predicting how the shutdown will factor into future decisions about funding for federal programs.

“Maybe the government could use the experience to get some much needed responses on what we citizens do and do not value, and then come up with very crude guidelines for future cuts and not-cuts,” they wrote.

UPDATE: Via Roll Call, we learn that the Congressional Federal Credit Union is offering “Furlough loans” to Congressional staffers, who can borrow one month’s income, up to $3,000 with no interest, for 30 days. If the loan isn’t paid back by then, interest starts accumulating.

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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