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Forlorn and Furloughed

Approximately 380,000 federal employees were furloughed before the Christmas holiday and most will receive their last pay check this week.  While the focus has been on the politics of the shutdown, these workers have been struggling to understand the furlough system, navigate their bills, and life circumstances. The US Office of Personnel Management created a Funding Lapse webpage that provides information for employees during the shutdown.  Their Guidance for Shutdown Furloughs is a forty seven page document that is difficult to read and comprehend. 



The booklet describes the shut down as the closure of agencies that are funded by annual appropriations.  Federal workers are divided into categories:




  1. Furloughed employees are non-essential and will not be allowed to work. 
  2. Essential employees are funded through annual appropriations but are expected to work without pay through the furlough.  These employees are deemed essential for safety, emergency situations such as severe weather, power failures and the interruption of public transportation. 
  3. Exempt employees are not affected and will continue to work. 
  4. Presidential employees who are not covered by the leave system in 5 U. S. C chapter 63 and are not subject to the leave system will continue to work. Each agency will determine which, and how many employees are needed.


Employees are affected in a variety of ways by the furlough.  They are not guaranteed compensation unless approved by Congress.  The Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act was passed to provide back wages.  However, the bill did not include holiday pay for Christmas or New Year’s Day.  Employees are not allowed to take scheduled paid leave or use their saved leave to compensate for the loss of income. 


Should employees file for unemployment insurance most states required them to repay the amount in full.  Employees must also be cautious when accepting secondary employment.  Most federal agencies require employees to seek approval before beginning work.  The Office of Personnel Management has provided employees with a set of letters and suggestions to use when negotiating payments with creditors and mortgage companies.  The letters include tips for phone conversations and encourage employees to ask for lower payments during a shutdown.


These real life experiences are being displayed on Twitter using the hastag #ShutdownStories. Two of these from the Time article “Returning Christmas Gifts and Taking a Second Job: Federal Workers Are Already Feeling the Pain of ... illustrate how the shutdown impacts families.


As you talk with students about the shutdown try personalizing the event by asking these questions: 


  • Which offices are shut down?
  • Do federal employees maintain their insurance during the shutdown?
  • Will employees accrue leave?
  • Can they still take Family Medical Leave? What happens if they have a substantial life change during the shutdown?
  • Are Veteran’s being taken care of during the shutdown?
  • What happens to government contract workers?