January 21, 2019: Second Furlough Notice

My employer sent me an email directing me to a website where I could download my second furlough notice (since the first furlough was only for 30 days). I am attached an edited version of it. I don’t know if those from other Government Agencies received similar notices or if they varied by Department.

In the absence of a signed Budget or Continuing Resolution to provide funding to Federal government operations for Fiscal Year 2019, no further financial obligations may be incurred, except performance of activities excepted from furlough. Excepted activities include those for law enforcement, and that protect health and safety; those financed from available funds such as trust funds or carry-over funds; those that protect
life and property, or those that are necessary to begin shutdown of other activities. Employees performing one of the excepted activities defined by law constitute a competitive level for shutdown purposes. Each staff office, mission area and agency is responsible for maintaining a plan that specifies excepted activities and required procedures for the orderly shutdown of their organization, and only employees identified for the orderly suspension of activities will be retained.

On January 16, 2019, the President signed into law the “Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019.” The Act provides that Federal employees who were furloughed or required to work during a lapse in appropriations beginning on or after December 22, 2018, will be compensated for the period of the lapse on the earliest date possible after the lapse ends, regardless of scheduled pay dates.

Because you are not engaged in one of the excepted functions, you will continue being in a furlough status effective January 21, 2019. This furlough, e.g., non-pay or nonwork status, is not expected to exceed 30 additional days. During the furlough, you are not permitted to perform your Government duties as an unpaid volunteer, and you must remain away from your workplace unless and until recalled to duty.

The furlough is a result of the continued sudden emergency requiring curtailment of your agency’s activities. Therefore, the customary 30-calendar day advance notice period and opportunity to answer under the provisions of Title 5, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 752.404(d)(2); and for Senior Executive Service employees under 5 CFR 359.806(a) are suspended.

Use of Government Equipment

Employees in furlough status are prohibited from using any government-issued equipment including computers and telephones. The same prohibition applies to use of any government system, including remotely accessing government e-mail or other automated systems. An exception is provided for access to personal information or documents on the Be Prepared and Employee Personal Page. Please be advised that a non-excepted employee’s use of government-issued equipment during the furlough may subject the employee to penalties that could include disciplinary action, fines and/or incarceration.

Available Information Sources

Employees are expected to use available resources (i.e. personal e-mail accounts, television, phone, radio, newspaper) to stay informed on the status of (agency) funding and subsequent termination of the shutdown. The Office of Operations Be Prepared website at (website) provides employee resources during the shutdown. The web site is being updated regularly. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) website
(www.opm.gov) is also another resource. It is recommended that you check these resources often.

Outside Employment

During the furlough, employees may engage in certain outside employment. However, all employees must ensure that such outside employment does not pose a conflict of interest with their official (Federal Government job) duties, and are required to comply with the ethics regulations governing
engaging in outside employment or activities (5 CFR Parts.2635 and 8301). During the furlough, the requirement for employees to seek advance approval of any outside employment or activity is waived. However, it is important to note that the ethics rules still apply to all employees during a furlough period, so any outside activity or employment must not present a
conflict of interest with your position and duties. Please review the Ethics Q&A and other Ethics resources that have been posted on Be Prepared.

Employee Assistance Program

Please be reminded that it is (Agency)’s policy to offer the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services to all employees who may be experiencing personal matters or that may be impacting their job performance, conduct, or attendance. In advising you of this counseling service it is not implied that you have such a problem. The EAP provides confidential counseling services for USDA employees at no charge to the employee. EAP services are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Information on contacting EAP services for your agency may be found at the Be Prepared web site.

No personal information regarding your contact with EAP can be obtained by anyone without your written consent, and your participation is not noted in your electronic Official Personnel Folder.

Unemployment Compensation

While on furlough, Federal employees may become eligible for unemployment benefits under the Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE) program. UCFE is paid by the states under the same terms and conditions as regular state UC. Please contact the state of
your last official duty station to file an UCFE claim. To qualify for benefits, you must have earned sufficient wages during the prior 12 – 18 months, as determined under the state UC law. The state will advise you of whether or not you are eligible for benefits. The Be Prepared web site includes additional resources regarding Unemployment Compensation.

Appeal Rights

Depending upon your type of appointment you may be eligible to appeal this action to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). Employees who have completed a probationary or trial period or one year of continuous employment in the competitive service, under other than a temporary appointment, may appeal this action to the MSPB. Employees in the excepted service who have veterans’ preference may appeal to MSPB if they have completed one year of current continuous service in the same or similar positions as the one they now hold. Employees in the excepted service who do not have veterans’ preference and who. are not serving a probationary or trial period under an initial appointment pending conversion to the competitive service may appeal to MSPB if they have completed two years of current continuous service in the same or
similar positions in an Executive agency under other than a temporary appointment limited to two years or less. If you have the right of appeal to MSPB and wish to appeal the furlough action, you must file the appeal within 30-calendar days after the effective date of your furlough. MSPB appeal forms, regulations and the address of the MSPB Regional Office having jurisdiction are attached and may also be found at http://www.mspb.gov. Career SES appointees (except reemployed annuitants) who believe requirements of 5 CFR 359, subpart H, or the agency’s procedures have not been correctly applied may also appeal to MSPB. MSPB appeal forms, regulations and the address of the MSPB Regional Office having jurisdiction are attached and may also be found at http://www.mspb.gov.

If you are a member of a bargaining unit and are covered by a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that provides for grieving an adverse action, you may be eligible to grieve this action under the negotiated grievance procedure or you may appeal to MSPB, but not both. To obtain information on filing a grievance under the negotiated grievance procedure, please contact your union representative or refer to the CBA.

Point of Contact for Questions

If you have questions not addressed in this notice, please contact your servicing Human Resources Office or e-mail (agencyemail).gov.

We sincerely regret any hardship this action has caused and recognize the impact any furlough has on employees. The Secretary is closely monitoring the budget discussions and is committed to responding to budgetary constraints in a manner that will provide minimal disruption to employees while striving to adequately serve the American people. We are hopeful that the legislation or the appropriations necessary to continue (Agency)’s activities will be enacted soon.

January 21, 2019: Some Impacts for Southern California

I had a long conversation with a friend of mine who lives in Southern California. We talked at length about the shutdown, starting with the personal (yes, I’m okay) and expanding to the broader social implications. My friend described two aspects of the shutdown that are affecting communities in SoCal that are not widely considered here in the Washington, DC area.

The first is that the USDA Forest Service is not able to do the preventive fire burns, because of the funding lapse for all of USDA. This could have dire consequences for next summer and fall, since these fire burns are designed to forestall catastrophic uncontrolled fires such as those that affected Malibu and Chico last fall. The shutdown is preventing critical fire prevention acts from occurring.

The second is concerning the local prison. Prison guards are required to work but they are not getting paid. They are about to lose their second paycheck (assuming a biweekly pay schedule like I have). Many are already facing severe financial hardships. Could they be more susceptible to bribes from prisoners, such as allowing drugs, other contraband, equipment for facilitating escapes, or cell phones to pass through into the hands of the prisoners? It is frightening to think of this if you live near a prison.

My friend added more observations, pertaining to the lack of funds for the Departments of Interior, Agriculture, State, and Homeland Security. See below.

Another issue is the lack of staffing in Cleveland National Forest. When people flocked to the snow atop Mt. Laguna, the restrooms were filthy and overflowing, not being cleaned.  Of more serious concern is whether trail rescues could be affected should hikers or others in our federal forest lands need help. 

Our area has 19 Native American tribes and they are suffering loss of healthcare and other benefits.  The poorer tribes may soon be in dire straits without their federal benefits.

A big concern is loss of CalFresh benefits. Our County was smart and managed to get February benefits out early before the funds got cut off, but there’s no guarantee for March or thereafter.  A lot of people here are living on the edge, reliant on those benefits.

We are also concerned there could be attrition in federal firefighters if this shutdown drags on. While they are required to stay on the job, how long can people do that before some quit and take firefighting jobs at other agencies?  The feds provide things like teams of jumpers who parachute into remote areas to battle fires. 

A city councilman in El Cajon tell me the council’s request to tour a migrant child detention facility is in limbo due to the shutdown.

My own application for a global entry pass is caught up in the shutdown too.  I’m wondering whether passport applications are being processed?  At least I have that, but may have to stand in a long line at customs unnecessarily without the global entry pass, which is difficult for someone with neck/back pain problems.

January 19, 2019: Marching

I attended the women’s march today, carrying my sign that says “Stop the Shutdown”. A few people came up to me and asked if I was affected and of course, I said that I was a furloughed Federal worker. A number of other marchers shared their shutdown stories.

After the march, as my friend and I were walking to the latest subway stop, we saw the popup restaurant that Jose Andres created to serve Federal workers affected by the shutdown. We had already had lunch, but we got coffees (it was blustery and clammy outside) and they gave us a bag with dinner for us. It is amazing how much support there was among the marchers for ending the shutdown.

I’m going to include some photos of some of the interesting signs pertaining to the shutdown.

A few signs were addressed to the Senate Majority Leader.
Feeding Furloughed Feds
Real food. You could get a bag with food to go.

January 18, 2019: Feds Using Food Banks

With the author’s permission, I am posting a friend’s Facebook post. I’m editing some of the text to protect my friend’s privacy. Also, I meant to post this a few days ago but never pressed “published”. The post is in blue.

I’ve worked at the (Federal agency) for (x) years now. We run the SNAP (formerly food stamps) Program, WIC, School Lunch and Breakfast, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and several smaller programs that feed low-income Americans. However, my research had dealt mostly with (other aspects of the nutrition program). Basic poverty research is not really in my area of expertise.

Unlike some of my colleagues, I have never participated in any of our programs. However, due to the government shutdown, yesterday I got to experience something similar. Though we are good for a few more weeks, when (spouse) found out that the Capital Area Food Bank was distributing food boxes to furloughed federal employees, like me, I decided to go get one, partly to see what it was like be on the receiving end of such a line. It was a profound experience.

Since it was at the Giant Food on (location) and we normally shop at Giant, I had a list of other things I needed to buy. When I got there, only half an hour after distribution began, the line looked short. However, when I went to get into it, one of the volunteers told the line started inside. That made sense considering the cold. Inside, the first person in line told me to walk the other way to get into line. It turns out that the line started in the middle of the front, ran back one side, and ended half way along the back. And it was still getting longer.

Immediately, I forgot about the other things I needed to get and hurried to the back of the line. I kept wondering if I was going to have to wait in line for hours and find out the food ran out before I got there. In reality, it would not have made a big difference, right now, if it did before I got there, but the feeling still came on like a tsunami.

I ended up talking to a retired federal employee who had come as moral support for her daughter, who I found out, has a very good position at one of the departments where many people are working without pay, though she herself was also furloughed. Though she did not say so, the daughter, who had never needed any kind of assistance before, looked a little embarrassed. It did not help that her daughter was holding her 5 year old teddy bear that was kind of beat up.

Passersby did ask what the line was about, and the responses were mixed. Some people did say things like, “Damn wall”. But at least one said, “Oh, them,” with venom in his voice. It’s the way I hear some people talk about the poor.

The box was nothing to write home about–canned food that could make a decent chicken pot pie with stuffing mix and cranberry sauce, along with a bag of potatoes and onions, some of which were already mostly bad when we looked at them. But overall it could make two meals.

As I was driving away, I realized that I had completely forgotten the other items on my list. So I went to the Giant were I usually shop. When I was there, I economized. I just got the basics we needed, dairy and produce. While people looking into my cart would probably have thought that we were eating healthy, I could not stop wondering if people were judging me because I was just standing in a food line. In three hours, my mindset for shopping had completely changed.

Everyone, please remember that there are hundreds of thousands of federal workers who are sitting at home furloughed who just want to get back to work and do their jobs. There are also hundreds of thousands of federal employees who are working without pay. Let your representatives know that there are things we need to do and you want us doing our jobs.

However, at the same time, remember that there are people who stand in line every week at food banks hoping that the food does not run out before they get to the front. Sometimes the only food available is things that many Americans would not eat. And remember that often people make comments about them as they stand there.

I’m still a conservative and believe that individual action is the best way to fight poverty and invite you to do the same. If you know someone is struggling, invite them for dinner or a BBQ. Make donations to your local food bank of food you like to eat, not stuff that you don’t want. And most of all, remember that many people in poverty are there for little fault of their own. They are single mothers who husbands walked out on them. They are people who had good jobs in factories that closed. They are people who weren’t all that good in school and haven’t been able to get a good paying job in the tech economy.

January 17, 2019: Food Assistance

I received a very ironic email from my local food bank asking for donations (some text has been altered to protect privacy). Needless to say, I’m not contributing right now.

The text of the solicitation is as follows:

We are currently in the longest government shutdown in the history of our country. With no end in sight, many local (residents) are affected:

  • Federal workers who are currently furloughed and not being paid.
  • Contracted workers, such as janitorial staff and food service workers, who are out of work and will never see these lost wages.
  • Employees from local businesses who are losing valuable work hours as federal employees look to cut expenses.

(Food Bank) currently serves 2,300 families on a weekly basis, and we need your help in order to keep up with the rising demand for our services. Please consider making a donation to (Food Bank) to support all those in need at this time.

January 17, 2019: Entering a Shutdown Federal Office Building

The other day, I had to conduct business at my credit union. I went to the branch that is still open, in a commercially-owned building that the Government rents. When I entered, there were security guards. I had to show my ID and then take the elevator to the third floor, where the credit union office was located. When I approached the credit union, there was another security guard monitoring the floor; I guess to make sure that people were in fact going to the credit union and not trying to get into their offices. It was very weird.

Update: I had occasion to go back to the credit union. In the past, when I’ve gone, it’s been pretty quiet. This time, the clerk was surprised to see me deposit a check (Christmas money). There were a few grim faced people filling out paperwork on the chairs. I have a feeling they were availing themselves of the following assistance that my credit union offers:

Special Assistance for Consumer Loans – Members affected by the shutdown may be able to defer payments on their (credit union) consumer loans during the furlough period with the Skip-a-Payment option.* Contact the credit union at (202) 479-2270 or email (credit union email) for more information.

Furlough Line of Credit –  You may be eligible for a Furlough Line of Credit. For details click (link disabled).

  • 0% APR Line of Credit with no credit check
  • Amounts from $400 to $6000
  • 60 day term
  • Have an existing biweekly direct deposit of at least $400

January 15, 2019: Uncertainty

Now that the DC judge has ruled against the federal employees’ unions lawsuits (see my previous post), hope of having this shutdown end anytime soon has faded for me. I really am concerned that this shutdown will last for a number of weeks. While I have the resources to ride out an extended furlough, I know many people don’t. But its not just about me. What does it say about the country that huge slices of work that the government does is being left undone. What does it say that over 400,000 people are working, often at hard, taxing jobs, with an unknown pay date?

I know that I’ve felt very discombobulated, without my normal routine and my normal tasks. I know that when I am able to return to work, there will be tons of emails and a lot of catch up to do. I know that I’m just a pawn in a larger political game and I feel powerless. Even calling my Representative and Senators is not really something that I feel gives me agency; for me, contacting them is like preaching to the choir. My Congressman and two Senators want the shutdown to end as much as anyone.

There was a period in the 1990s when I felt in limbo; when I was trying to get pregnant. It took nearly two years. In hindsight, that doesn’t seem that long, but at the time, it was v e r y d r a w n o u t. The big part was the uncertainty. Would I conceive this month? Next month? Next year? End up adopting? Resign myself to a childless life?

I had a lot of panic about that situation; I was in my late 30s and having a child was something I felt very passionate about. Towards the end of that period, though, I had an epiphany — this period was simply one act in my life; it would come to a close, something new would happen, and it was going to be all right. Shortly after that, I did end up conceiving and becoming a mother to a beautiful healthy child.

There are some lessons here, but I also recognize that the situation is very different. The commonality — feeling in limbo and having uncertainty. The differences — this isn’t about me, it’s about millions of people (if you add those living in households with the 800,000 affected Federal employees), plus all of the contractors and small businesses that are losing income, yes, it is millions). And its about the future of our national government, and thus, about our country. I don’t have the confidence this time that everything will be all right.

Comments welcome.