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7 Tips for Workers During a Government Shutdown

Government workers are in a tough spot when government shutdowns occur. 

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Government workers are in a tough spot when government shutdowns occur. While a few agencies are funded separately, most of the federal workforce will be confronted with losing their income either temporarily or permanently. Essential workers – those working to provide public safety and national security – will be required to continue working without pay during a shutdown. All others are deemed non-essential and will not be able to work.

The funding legislation, when Congress negotiates a resolution to the appropriations lapse, often includes provisions to make federal civilian employees whole again. However, contractor employees do not receive back pay unless their company provides it.

If confronted with a partial or total loss of income due to a government closure, experts advise the following steps to stay solvent until your paycheck is restored:

1 | Review instructions from your employer regarding work expectations in the event of a government shutdown. Are you expected to report to work, are you prohibited from working, or will you be reassigned?

2 | Eliminate unnecessary spending immediately. Discretionary expenditures need to be put on hold until your finances are secure again.

3 | Apply for Unemployment Insurance (UI) in the state where you live. This will help to cover immediate necessary expenses, even if you eventually receive back pay. (At which time you would need to repay the UI benefits.)

4 | Build up reserves. Cash in government bonds, look into selling items you no longer need, or consider picking up some side work.

5 | Put medical bills on a payment plan. Reduce the burden of large expenses by paying in installments.

6 | A Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) loan is a drastic step, but can be ready in 7-10 days and help pay the bills until the closure is over.

7 | Make your voice heard by contacting your congressional representation and urging them to resolve their differences and avert a shutdown. 

Additionally, furloughed federal workers must be prepared to return to work with little to no advance notice. During the shutdown, they may not be able to take or schedule leave or use government provided equipment such as phones and laptops. Even if still working, contractor employees’ with reduced hours may lose eligibility for their health plan and other employee benefits.

Unemployment insurance (UI) and Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE) can be a lifeline for federal workers and contractors. However, when the websites go offline, online forms may not be accessible. It’s recommended that potentially effected workers print out application forms and proof of income in advance.

By setting a plan in place long before you need it , you will be better able to weather the difficulties from a government shutdown.

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