The National Association of Social Workers is relieved that Republicans, Democrats and the White House have reached an agreement to reopen the government after a 16-day shutdown.
However, we are concerned millions of Americans, including federal contract workers who will not get back pay, will struggle financially in the aftermath of the shutdown. And the shutdown could stymie economic recovery.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reached an agreement to reopen the government on October 16. The agreement extends U.S. borrowing authority to February 7, 2014, although the U.S. Treasury Department would have tools to temporarily extend its borrowing capacity beyond that date if Congress failed to act early next year.
While NASW is pleased the Executive and Legislative branches of government agreed to end the shutdown, we remain disappointed the government came to a halt to seemingly advance a politically motivated agenda. According to an initial analysis from Standard & Poors, the shutdown of the federal government will cost the U.S. economy $24 billion.
We must not ignore the plight of federal workers who were furloughed. There is a misperception that federal employees are highly paid and underworked, but that is far from true. There are millions of low-level federal employees with families earning less than $40,000 per year. Although federal employees that have career status will eventually receive back pay for the missed pay checks during the shutdown period, many of these employees live “paycheck-to-paycheck” and can ill afford to miss a pay period.
Federal contract employees will fare worse. They are not eligible for reimbursement for lost pay. Federal contract workers are not only highly paid Defense Department contractors, but also cafeteria workers at the Smithsonian and other federal buildings who work at close to minimum wage. For these workers, two weeks without pay is devastating.
The agreement to permit the debt ceiling to be raised temporarily (three months) does not alleviate concerns that the debt ceiling debate will not be used in the future to extract huge spending cuts. NASW is also wary of spending cuts that could occur when a bipartisan budget panel holds negotiations that will precede the February 2014 debt ceiling deadline. Such cuts would be unfortunate, considering a sequestration agreement that slashes federal funding, is already in effect.
An agreement to either make the sequestration spending cuts permanent or make additional cuts could be devastating, and would truly shred a safety net that has given vulnerable populations such as school-age children, some degree of economic, health and nutritional security. NASW urges those who would jeopardize the nation’s economy, cut funding for or eliminate programs that help children, senior citizens, veterans, and people who are poor or disabled, to reconsider the extreme positions they have taken.