The State of New York needs to protect Federal workers in the event of another U.S. Government shutdown like the one that began last Dec. 22 and left several thousand civil servants here without pay for a record 35 days, a top American Federation of Government Employees official told a state legislative panel Oct. 28.
While the news out of Washington is dominated by the debate over impeaching President Trump, state lawmakers noted at the hearing in lower Manhattan that there was a chance of another shutdown in the next few weeks.
Roll Call reported on Oct. 30 that there was a distinct possibility that for the first time in history, an impeachment proceeding could “overlap” with a potential shutdown, leading to “roughly 2 million Federal workers [who] would get hit in their wallets as the holiday season begins, including staffers working on the impeachment proceedings.”
Gabriel Pedreira, AFGE’s Legislative and Political Coordinator for the Northeast, told the Legislative Commission on Government Administration, a joint Assembly/State panel, that while he thought the closeness of the presidential election would most likely promote bipartisan cooperation, the damage from the last shutdown was still having an impact on his members.
He called for Albany to consider emergency measures for future shutdowns, including providing food vouchers at the state’s airports for members of the Transportation Security Administration; preventing banks and credit-card companies from penalizing workers while their pay was withheld, and encouraging patience from landlords so that employees would not be evicted if late in paying rent.
According to union officials, Federal workers caught up in the shutdown saw their credit scores take a 50-to-100-point drop, a consequence that still lingers more than nine months after it ended.
‘Strips Them of Dignity’
“Being forced to go to work for 35 days for no pay strips a worker of his dignity, and that is something many workers never completely recovered from,” Mr. Pedreira said. “They were not able to feed themselves or pay for gas themselves, or pay the rent themselves.”
The AFGE representative told the panel that during the last shutdown, his union was grateful to Westchester County Executive George Latimer, who issued food vouchers for the TSA personnel who cover Westchester County Airport. He suggested the state consider something similar for the TSA workforce, whose average salary is $35,000. Employees had to cover hundreds of dollars in out-of-pocket commuting costs without money coming in.
Mr. Pedreira testified that the union observed that in and around Washington, D.C., where there is a heavy concentration of Federal workers, some landlords were patient waiting for the rent. “I have not heard of any landlords in New York City, or in New York State for that matter” doing something similar, he said. “So, if the state could work on that too” because “we don’t want people ending up facing eviction if they are not able to pay [the rent] through no fault of their own.”
“Some states afforded [Federal] workers” the opportunity “to apply for unemployment insurance,” said Assemblyman and Commission Chairman David Buchwald, who added that the state did not do so because there would have been no Federal reimbursement for its administrative costs.
Mr. Pedreira said that the unemployment process was a source of “frustration” for Federal workers across the country, with workers who were furloughed and sent home in some instances being eligible for it, while those deemed essential and compelled to work were denied benefits.
During the shutdown, Albany lawmakers and Governor Cuomo enacted legislation to ensure that municipalities would provide Federal-employee homeowners a delay on their property-tax bills. Both the City and State University Systems extended a similar courtesy to Federal Government households for tuition bills.
Legislators wanted to know what AFGE had observed in other states to help tide over civil servants caught in the shutdown.
“What I actually saw was more from the charitable organizations and individual religious charities, and credit unions who were setting up low interest loans for Federal employees,” Mr. Pedreira said.
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