Federal workers may have some financial remedies during government shutdown

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As the partial U.S. government shutdown nears the end of its second week, roughly 800,000 government employees are on unpaid leave or working without pay. If you’re one of those workers, you may be able to get some help during this period of financial hardship.

The latest U.S. government shutdown began on Dec. 22 after Congress was unable to pass a 2019 budget due to an impasse over funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. So far, there’s been little indication that Congress and the Trump Administration are anywhere near a budget agreement, which means many government workers don’t know when they’ll get their next paychecks.

Some financial institutions are stepping in to help their customers deal with difficulties they may face due to the shutdown, and the government has a plan of action designed for shutdown scenarios. But with no end to the shutdown in sight, affected workers should consider taking any steps they can to protect their finances.

Want to know more?

What’s the background?

The current partial U.S. government shutdown is largely the result of a standoff over President Trump’s demands for money for a southern border wall.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives made progress toward passing a final 2019 budget several days before Christmas. But while the House measure included $5.7 billion for a border wall, Senate proposals — including a stopgap measure to keep the government open until February — did not include funding for a border wall, resulting in an impasse in the House. President Trump, who campaigned in part on a promise to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, was unwilling to sign any budget measure without the billions he requested in funding for this purpose.

With the budget stalemate triggering this latest partial government shutdown, many government workers have been left hanging — uncertain when they’ll get paid or be back to work. The partial shutdown impacts about 800,000 government workers, 380,000 of whom are on furlough and another 420,000 who will continue working throughout the shutdown without payment.

Why does this matter?

As 2018 drew to a close, there was talk about the possibility of an economic recession in the U.S. by 2020. With a significant number of Americans going without pay due to the shutdown and many of them struggling to pay their bills, some predict a period of uncertainty for the economy at large.

Financial institutions such as Navy Federal Credit Union and Wells Fargo have posted online messages offering assistance and suggesting actions customers may be able to take if they’re affected by the government shutdown. For example, Well Fargo says it will consider waiving overdraft or non-sufficient funds fees on accounts or offering payment assistance for mortgages, credit cards and loans.

Additionally, in a recent tweet the federal Office of Personnel Management provided sample letters that federal workers can use to discuss payment options with creditors.

How could this impact you?

If you are among the many government workers affected by the shutdown, there are some steps you can take to get help.

  • Assess your budget: Looking at a personal budget might not be anyone’s idea of fun, especially right after the holidays. But, tracking and reviewing your expenses can help you get a better handle on where your money is going and make it easier to see where you might be able to adjust your spending.
  • Communicate with creditors: Creditors, banks and landlords may be willing to help you through periods of unemployment by adjusting payment schedules or waiving fees. However, you may not get this help unless you ask, so it’s a good idea to initiate communication with any companies or people you may owe.
  • Consider your community: If you aren’t a government employee impacted by the shutdown, but you work for a business or service that serves government workers, consider some ways you can help your customers during this difficult financial time. It might be the right move to adjust payment plans or offer temporary discounts on products and services for these affected groups.

What’s next?

President Trump and Congressional Democrats, who assumed control of the House on Thursday, met recently for the first time since the shutdown began. However, the two sides remain at odds over border funding, with House Republicans pushing to give President Trump the billions he wants for a border wall and Democrats proposing $1.3 billion for other border security.

With no end to the shutdown in sight, the outlook for 2019 is unclear for hundreds of thousands of government workers — and for the economy at large. However, some financial institutions and creditors are offering help. Affected workers should proactively reach out to learn what resources may be available.