The government shutdown has gotten so bad that agencies are using legal loopholes to restart critical functions

Natalie Behring/Getty Images
  • The government shutdown has gone on for 27 days now.
  • 380,000 federal employees were placed on furlough at the start of the shutdown, meaning they were forced to stay home and will receive no pay for the shutdown’s duration.
  • But some agencies are recalling furloughed workers in an attempt to restart key operations and blunt the shutdown’s impact.
  • The FDA, IRS, USDA, FAA, and State Department all announced that some furloughed workers would return to the job.
  • The recalled workers will still not receive pay, which is angering some unions.

The government shutdown, which started December 22, forced many of the federal government’s agencies to work with a bare-bones staff and cease a slew of major functions.

But as the shutdown drags on, more and more agencies are starting to call employees back to work to restart some critical functions of government that were going untended.

The unprecedented nature of the closure is forcing government agencies to use legal loopholes to take novel action to try to soften the blow from the shutdown.

During the shutdown, workers deemed “essential” – such as law enforcement and TSA agents – are compelled to work without pay during the duration of the shutdown.

The rest of the “nonessential” workers are placed on furlough, meaning those employees must stay home and do not receive pay.

About 420,000 workers were deemed essential at the start of the shutdown, while 380,000 were furloughed.

Read more: From airport lines to food inspections, here are all the ways the government shutdown is affecting the lives of average Americans

But many agencies are starting to switch workers’ classifications from furloughed to “excepted” status to get key operations running again. Here’s a rundown of some of the agencies bringing back workers from furlough:

  • The State Department announced Thursday that 8,000 furloughed diplomats would return to work. The department found enough money in payroll accounts to fund one 15-day pay period, officials said, but it was unclear whether there were more funds to make the furlough reprieve more than temporary. The employees will also not receive their back pay yet.
  • The Food and Drug Administration is bringing back 400 food inspectors to perform high-risk inspections after public outcry and concerns about food-poisoning outbreaks. Some of the inspectors also look after medical devices and drugs.
  • The Internal Revenue Service will bring back 36,000 employees to help process tax returns and already called back employees to complete income checks necessary for some Americans to obtain mortgages.
  • The Federal Aviation Administration recalled 2,200 safety inspectors to restart work to ensure airlines and aircraft manufacturers are operating safely.
  • The USDA recalled 2,500 workers to temporarily open services for farmers to receive aid.

Some funding has been reallocated from other programs, discovered, or paid through fees to those agencies. Almost all the workers will not get paid while they are back on the job until the shutdown ends, meaning the financial strain on these employees will continue.

Furloughed workers can apply for government unemployment insurance in some cases, while excepted workers may not.

Read more: The number of federal employees making unemployment claims during the government shutdown is soaring

Unions representing the various agencies’ employees have argued that forcing the workers to come back to the job without pay is a violation of federal labour laws.

The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), which also represents IRS employees, is suing the government for forcing the workers to come in without compensation.

“There is no doubt the IRS needs to get ready for the 2019 filing season that starts Jan. 28, and IRS employees want to work,” Tony Reardon, the NTEU president, said in a statement. “But the hard, cold reality is that they have already missed a paycheck and soon they will be asked to work for free for as long as the shutdown lasts.”

On Tuesday, a federal judge blocked a lawsuit that sought to force the government to pay employees working without pay during the shutdown.

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