Sunday October 25th, 2020 9:22AM

Some workers still unpaid after shutdown, dread what's next

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

Nearly two weeks after the end of the longest government shutdown in U.S history, many federal workers still have not received their back pay or have only gotten a fraction of what they are owed as government agencies struggle with payroll glitches and other delays.

And even as they scramble to catch up on unpaid bills and to repay unemployment benefits, the prospect of another shutdown looms next week.

"President Trump stood in the Rose Garden at the end of the shutdown and said, 'We will make sure that you guys are paid immediately.' ... And here it is, it's almost two weeks later," said Michael Walter, who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture food safety inspection service in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and only got his paycheck Wednesday. He said two co-workers told him they still had received nothing.

The government has been short on details about how many people are still waiting to be paid.

Bradley Bishop, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, said the Trump administration had taken "unprecedented steps to ensure federal employees impacted by the shutdown received back pay within a week."

"Much opposite of 'slow and chaotic,' an overwhelming majority of employees received their pay by Jan. 31," he said, though he didn't respond to questions about how many people still hadn't been paid.

The USDA said in a statement that pay was its top priority, but also did not respond to questions about how many workers were still awaiting paychecks. Asked to confirm that some people hadn't been paid, USDA spokeswoman Amanda Heitkamp replied, "I'm not sure."

Donna Zelina's husband works for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in South Dakota. He has received only a portion of his back pay, and does not expect to be fully paid until Feb. 12. The couple had to drain their savings shortly before the shutdown when both his parents died, leaving them in a precarious financial position.

Zelina said she called her creditors, but they wouldn't work with her. Her husband's car loan went into forbearance, causing them to rack up fees.

"I don't think people really understand what people do in government and just assume that everybody ... makes millions of dollars," she said.

A spokesman for the Department of Interior, which handles payroll for more than five dozen government offices, did not answer when asked how many workers were due back pay, but said a "small group of employees" had not received anything. Spokesman Russell Newell said others received "interim payments of back pay" that would be made up in the next pay period.

The Census Bureau acknowledged Wednesday that about 850 employees nationwide have yet to receive back pay or have only gotten a fraction of what they're owed. A spokesman said they expected most of those workers to be paid by Friday.

Other affected agencies include the Federal Aviation Administration, where two unions representing FAA workers said their members had not yet received all of their back pay.

Doug Church of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said members who worked during the shutdown had not gotten overtime, which he said was a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. They also had not received the extra pay they were due for working nights and holidays, he said.

David Verardo, a union local president, said he was still owed $2,000 and estimated that the 1,000 workers his union represents at the National Science Foundation in Alexandria, Virginia, are each due between $1,200 and $3,000 for the two pay periods they missed.

"It's good that we got back pay at all, but it seems to have been clumsily done. When people ask questions, the answer they get is, 'We're doing the best we can,'" said Verardo of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3403.

Making matters even more confusing, he said payments for things like supplemental health plans and court-ordered alimony and child support were not withheld from paychecks. He said workers were told to pay them on their own, but many didn't know how to do that and were concerned about possible legal implications.

In addition to the pay delays, workers are struggling with issues like navigating the bureaucracy of paying back unemployment benefits and the looming question of whether there would be another shutdown after Feb. 15.

Trish Binkley, a tax examiner at the Internal Revenue Service in Kansas City, Missouri, is setting aside money, including her tax refund and an emergency loan she got from her credit union, in case of another shutdown.

She received two unemployment checks of $288 each during the shutdown before getting a letter informing her she was ineligible for the benefits — even though she had been told she qualified. Binkley has paid the money back, but worries about another shutdown.

She and others have grown increasingly frustrated at seeing social media posts that downplayed the impact of the shutdown.

"This was not a vacation. Vacations are supposed to be fun and relaxing. You have money to go do fun things or whatever. This was one of the most stressful periods of my life," Binkley said.

The shutdown motivated Cheryl Inzunza Blum to re-evaluate her career as a government contract lawyer representing immigrants in federal court in Tucson, Arizona. She has not been paid since before the shutdown began.

Blum realized she must diversify her solo law practice and plans to do more personal injury work. For the long term, she is making a bigger change. She enrolled in an online course in international relations at Harvard Extension School to educate herself on what drives migration, and hopes to work on solutions to the issues surrounding immigration.

"I did it because I don't want to go through this again," she said. "I want to carve out another career, I really do."

Among the groups hardest hit by the shutdown are contract workers who were kept home and who are not entitled to back pay.

The shutdown affected some 2,000 people with disabilities who got their government contract jobs with help from the nonprofit SourceAmerica, according to John Kelly, its vice president of government affairs and public policy.

Nearly 60 percent still had not been called back to their jobs as of Wednesday.

It's been a difficult time for those workers, who often have a hard time finding a job in the first place, Kelly said. Their jobs include custodial and mailroom work at agencies like NASA, the Coast Guard and the Department of the Interior, he said.

The shutdown has also damaged some workers' credit scores.

Pearl Fraley, of Greenville, North Carolina, who works for the food safety inspection service, had to work unpaid through the shutdown and used credit cards to get by. Fraley asked her landlord to waive the late fees on her rent, but has not heard back. She said her car's heater broke during the shutdown, and she hasn't had the money to get it fixed.

She's dreading another possible shutdown.

"I don't know if we can do this a second time," she said.


Associated Press writer Juliet Linderman in Washington contributed to this report.

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Business, AP Business - Corporate News
© Copyright 2020
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
The Latest: 5 workers found safe after San Francisco blast
The San Francisco Fire Department says five workers have been found safe after a gas explosion and fire and that no injuries have been reported
5:26PM ( 2 minutes ago )
Some workers still unpaid after shutdown, dread what's next
Many federal workers are still reeling financially and waiting to be made whole after the longest government shutdown in U.S. history
5:14PM ( 14 minutes ago )
Blackface photo reopens long history of bigotry in medicine
Blackface photo on Virginia governor's yearbook page reopens long history of bigotry in American medicine
4:58PM ( 30 minutes ago )
U.S. News
Video game companies lead modest slide in US stocks
A mixed bag of corporate earnings nudged U.S. stocks slightly lower Wednesday, snapping the market's five-day winning streak
4:59PM ( 29 minutes ago )
Trump introduces World Bank critic David Malpass to lead it
Trump introduces Treasury official Malpass as his choice to lead the World Bank
4:59PM ( 29 minutes ago )
US attorney in Philadelphia sues over safe injection site
The top federal prosecutor in Philadelphia has filed suit to stop a nonprofit from opening a safe injection site to address the city's opioid problem
4:52PM ( 36 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Democrats launch new probe of Trump's finances, Russia ties
House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff says the committee will launch a broad new investigation looking at Russian interference in the 2016 election and President Donald Trump's foreign financial interests
4:14PM ( 1 hour ago )
No plans yet for US, China presidents to meet on trade
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says there are no plans yet for President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping to meet to finalize a trade deal
3:41PM ( 1 hour ago )
Spotify takes a big jump into the podcasting game
Spotify is making a bigger bet on podcasts as it looks to bring a Netflix-like model of original programs to the audio world
3:37PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
2018 was 4th warmest, but next 5 years could break records
Four weather agencies say 2018 was the fourth-warmest on record, but meteorologists say it's only going to get hotter
2:51PM ( 2 hours ago )
Crisis in Virginia: Scandal sweeps up 3 Virginia officials
The political crisis in Virginia has exploded: The state's attorney general has confessed to putting on blackface in the 1980s and a woman has gone public with detailed allegations of sexual assault against the lieutenant governor
2:44PM ( 2 hours ago )
Paris prosecutor: Fire suspect has history of mental issues
The Paris prosecutor says a suspect detained in the fire that killed 10 people as it devastated a Paris apartment building has been hospitalized at least 13 times for mental problems
2:35PM ( 2 hours ago )
AP Online National News
NASA, SpaceX aim for March test of 1st new astronaut capsule
NASA, SpaceX aiming for a March test flight of 1st astronaut capsule from a private company
2:33PM ( 2 hours ago )
The Latest: Woman who accused lt. gov. of sex assault speaks
The woman whose sexual assault allegations against Virginia's lieutenant governor surfaced this week is speaking publicly about the encounter
2:28PM ( 3 hours ago )
Suspect in Wisconsin teen's abduction ordered to stand trial
A Wisconsin man suspected in the abduction of 13-year-old Jayme Closs and killing of her parents waived his right to a preliminary hearing Wednesday and was ordered to stand trial
2:08PM ( 3 hours ago )
Top U.S. News short headlines
Vatican clarifies pope on issue of 'sexual slavery' of nuns
The Vatican is clarifying comments by Pope Francis about a case of "sexual slavery" within a French congregation of nuns, saying he was referring to an abuse of power within the congregation that was reflected in instances of sexual abuse
11:54AM ( 5 hours ago )
The Latest: Dutch say no-deal Brexit could hit 50 medicines
Dutch health authorities say that the supply of some 50 medicines used to treat life-threatening illnesses could be jeopardized if Britain leaves the European Union without a deal.
11:36AM ( 5 hours ago )
EU nixes deal to create rail giant able to stand up to China
European Union authorities have blocked a deal to create a rail giant that could compete with China, angering France and Germany, which vowed to change the way the EU works.
11:30AM ( 5 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
Trump taps World Bank critic David Malpass to lead it
President Donald Trump says top Treasury Department official David Malpass is his choice to lead the World Bank
2:37PM ( 2 hours ago )
The Latest: Trump says House intel probe has no basis
President Donald Trump is lashing out at Adam Schiff, the Democratic chair of the House intelligence committee
2:22PM ( 3 hours ago )
Trump announces campaign rally next week in El Paso, Texas
President Donald Trump's re-election team says he'll hold his first campaign rally of the year next week in El Paso, Texas
1:40PM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
The Latest: AP source: Miami's Johnson traded to Phoenix
The Latest: AP source: Tyler Johnson going from Miami to Phoenix
4:07PM ( 1 hour ago )
MLB says no evidence to support allegations against Mariners
MLB says its independent investigation found no credible evidence to support claims of disparaging comments and discriminatory treatment by members of the Seattle Mariners front office
3:51PM ( 1 hour ago )
Financial watchdog proposes rollback of payday lending rules
The nation's federal financial watchdog agency has announced its plans to roll back most of its consumer protections governing the payday lending industry
3:05PM ( 2 hours ago )
AP Business
Trump bump? NYT adds subscribers, grows digital revenue
New York Times adds large numbers of digital subscribers and grows digital revenue as its newsroom expands
12:24PM ( 5 hours ago )
Stocks fall on mixed corporate earnings
Stocks are falling in midday trading on Wall Street as U.S. companies turn in a mixed bag of financial results.
12:09PM ( 5 hours ago )
GM rebounds with $8.1B 2018 profit on strong pricing
General Motors' posted an $8.1 billion net profit last year as it got better prices for vehicles sold in the U.S., its most lucrative market
11:30AM ( 5 hours ago )
AP Business - Corporate News
Blackface photo reopens long history of bigotry in medicine
Blackface photo on Virginia governor's yearbook page reopens long history of bigotry in American medicine
4:58PM ( 30 minutes ago )
Crisis escalates in Virginia; top 3 Democrats under fire
The political crisis in Virginia has exploded: The state's attorney general has confessed to putting on blackface in the 1980s and a woman has gone public with detailed allegations of sexual assault against the lieutenant governor
4:38PM ( 50 minutes ago )
Migrant caravan detained in old factory, across from Texas
A caravan of 1,600 Central American migrants is surrounded by Mexican authorities in an old factory a short distance from Texas
4:12PM ( 1 hour ago )
The Latest: Herring exits top role at attorney general group
Virginia's attorney general will no longer be a top leader of a national association after admitting he wore blackface at a college party
4:10PM ( 1 hour ago )
Arizona city officials decry new razor wire on border wall
Elected officials in an Arizona border city are decrying the installation of razor wire that now covers a tall border wall through downtown
4:09PM ( 1 hour ago )