PORTLAND, Maine — Federal employees in Maine hope they’ll be paid for the time they spend on furlough because of the government shutdown, and members of the state’s congressional delegation say they’ll give up their salaries to make sure that happens if they need to.
After the last government shutdown in 1995, federal employees who were furloughed were eventually paid for their troubles.
For more than three weeks in which they were told not to work, government workers nationwide were paid a total of approximately $400 million. Then-President Bill Clinton counted it as a $400 million loss because the government ended up paying for jobs that weren’t done.
Federal employees sent home Tuesday because of the current government shutdown hope that happens again this time.
“As it sits right now, it’s a furlough without pay, but in the past, they made sure you got paid,” said Poland resident Bill Coffin, a furloughed repairman from Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery. “The last time this happened was in the ’90s, and it lasted 21 days, but in the end when they appropriated the money, they appropriated money to pay people for the days they were furloughed. … That’s what I’m expecting [again now], that they’ll back pay us.”
Coffin was one of about 2,800 shipyard workers who faced furloughs, while more than another 400 Maine National Guard employees in Augusta and 200 civilian workers at the U.S. Navy’s Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Conversion and Repair office in Bath would also be sent home.
Employees from local offices of other agencies, such as the Small Business Administration and National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, were also reportedly furloughed Tuesday, although statewide totals across all federal departments were not immediately available.
Government operations not considered crucial to protecting American lives or property came to a halt Tuesday after the U.S. House and Senate failed to reach a compromise on a plan to fund them before a midnight Monday deadline to do so. Nationwide, an estimated 800,000 federal employees were put on furlough Tuesday.
The Republican-led House has insisted on defunding or delaying implementation of President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act, in any government spending bill it approves. The Democrat-controlled Senate has refused to consider any funding deal that undercuts the health care law, leaving the government without any budget in place to keep it running.
Members of Maine’s congressional delegation said Wednesday they’ll insist that any compromise reached include money to pay furloughed workers for the time they missed.
“I think it’s completely regrettable that federal workers, who faithfully serve the public each and every day, have to endure the very real pain of a government shutdown,” said U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, in a statement to the Bangor Daily News. “The shutdown is not their fault, but they have now become its victims, and it is my hope that when this budget chaos is resolved, they will be properly compensated.”
Some government workers who are considered key for national security, among other things, are being required to log hours during the shutdown but will not immediately get paid for it.
On Wednesday, all four members of Maine’s congressional delegation offered to give up pay during the government shutdown in solidarity.
“Sen. Collins is doing what her constituents expect and that is working to end this shutdown as soon as possible because of its serious ramifications for American families and our economy,” said Kevin Kelley, spokesman for Collins. “Sen. Collins believes that members of Congress should lose pay if federal employees who also work during the shutdown are not ultimately compensated. If that occurs, Sen. Collins will donate pay during the shutdown to charities.”
Ed Gilman, spokesman for Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s office, said Michaud will donate his money to affected Maine families struggling to make ends meet or a veterans’ group working with furloughed employees.
Scott Ogden, a spokesman for King, said the senator is putting his pay in an escrow account and will donate it to Maine charities if federal employees who work during the shutdown aren’t compensated.
Michaud and Maine’s other U.S. House member, Democrat Chellie Pingree, are co-sponsoring bills that will cut the pay of members of Congress during a government shutdown. Pingree has likewise volunteered to give up her salary during the shutdown, according to Willy Ritch, one of the congresswoman’s top staffers.
“Congresswoman Pingree is co-sponsoring a bill that would guarantee that all federal workers get their regular pay, even though there has been a government shutdown,” Ritch told the BDN Wednesday. “Those workers have families, monthly budgets, rent and mortgage payments, and it would be unfair to make them go without the salaries they have been counting on just because Congress can’t keep the government funded.”