THE SENATE is set to vote Thursday on two bills to reopen the federal government. It will be the chamber’s first action since the partial shutdown started more than a month ago, and we hope it means there will soon be an end to the pointless and costly crippling of the federal government. Realistically, though, neither the proposal by President Trump nor that of the Democrats appears likely to get the 60 votes needed to advance. That will mean even more uncertainty and harm for the 800,000 government workers caught up in the standoff.
Workers in nine departments and dozens of agencies, about a third of the government, have been affected by the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, which will have lasted 33 days as of Thursday. While the Trump administration has tried to ease the impact of the closure on the public by using creative interpretations of work rules to avoid the interruption of popular government programs, it has shown scant interest in softening the hardship for people who do those vital federal jobs. A case in point is its refusal to allow states to offer unemployment benefits to federal workers who are required to work without pay during the shutdown.
Workers who were furloughed as of Dec. 22 (about 380,000 people) are generally eligible to apply for benefits under the Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees program administered by the states. The benefits are not a match for a regular government paycheck, and they will have to be repaid if employees receive back pay when they return to work. Nonetheless, unemployment benefits provide a vital and timely lifeline to people struggling with how to pay the rent, buy groceries and take care of other necessities.
So it’s a hardship that workers who have been deemed essential and required to work without pay (about 420,000 of them, with the number likely to increase with the administration’s efforts to recall additional employees) are not eligible for jobless benefits under a 2013 federal guidance that was reaffirmed last week by the Trump administration. The department’s rationale, The Post’s Tim Craig reported, is that essential workers don’t qualify because they are guaranteed eventual payment for the hours they work.
Never mind that furloughed workers eligible for jobless benefits will also get back pay because of action taken by Congress and signed by Mr. Trump. Never mind that the federal workers who are required to work don’t have the option of trying to find temporary nongovernment work. Never mind that federal workers who are required to work have to incur the costs of commuting. Never mind that the predicament of these public servants is not of their making.
At least three states — California, Colorado and Vermont — said they will pay out the benefits anyway. “A matter of commonsense and compassion,” Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) wrote . “Jaw-dropping and extraordinary,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said of the Trump administration’s decision, but “the good news, we’re going to do it, and shame on them.” Shame, indeed.