Govt staff begin week unsure whether to go to work

WASHINGTON • Hundreds of thousands of federal workers woke up yesterday with the US government still shut down and the Senate expected to try to restore federal funding, if only temporarily, and work on resolving a dispute on immigration.

Funding for federal agencies ran out at midnight last Friday and was not renewed amid a dispute between United States President Donald Trump and Democrats over immigration.

Up until yesterday, most federal workers were not directly affected by the shutdown that began at midnight on Friday. Many were still awaiting notification on whether they are "essential" employees or not, which would determine whether they must report to work.

Even late on Sunday, the federal Office of Personnel Management was providing little guidance. It said on its website that "federal government operations vary by agency".

"This is incredibly stressful," said Ms Jessica Klement, vice-president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, which represents more than 20,000 workers. "Essential employees must report to work without knowing when they will be paid next. Non-essential employees will be forced to stay home without pay, not knowing if back pay will be provided," she said.

Some employees may not have received notice of their status last Friday, she added, so they could have been going into work yesterday morning only to be sent home again.

During shutdowns, non-essential government employees are furloughed, or placed on temporary unpaid leave. Workers deemed essential, including those dealing with public safety, keep working.

The last shutdown, in October 2013, lasted more than two weeks and more than 800,000 federal employees were furloughed. There is no official tally of how many would be off work this time.

But local economies could be hurt in communities where thousands of non-essential personnel are likely to be off work. "For some people, it definitely will be a hardship, if you live pay cheque to pay cheque and you have bills that you need to pay," said Ms Pamela Gillis Gilbertz, a health communication worker for the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2018, with the headline 'Govt staff begin week unsure whether to go to work'. Print Edition | Subscribe