Four out of Five Federal Employees Worried About Paying Bills in Next Shutdown

Press Release December 11, 2019

Washington D.C. – The vast majority of federal employees are bracing for another government shutdown by cutting back on spending and growing increasingly anxious about their families’ financial well-being, according to a new survey of more than 6,200 members of the National Treasury Employees Union.

“The pain from the record shutdown one year ago is just too fresh, and now even the mere chance of another is alarming to federal employees again this holiday season,” said NTEU National President Tony Reardon. “Federal employees all over the country are terrified, again, that they will either be locked out of their jobs or forced to work without pay.”

Without an agreement between Congress and the administration, government funding will lapse at midnight, Dec. 20, and agencies without funding will close.

Four out of five federal employees, or 81.7 percent, say they are worried about their ability to pay their bills if they were to miss a paycheck in a shutdown, according to an online survey of NTEU members that was answered by more than 6,200 employees.

The record 35-day partial shutdown of December 2018-January 2019 affected 800,000 employees. By missing two paychecks, many of them went to food banks, ran up debt on their credit cards, filed for unemployment benefits and marched in the streets to protest the shutdown.

“Everything has changed. No longer are federal employees numb to the repeated shutdown threats,” Reardon said. “Congress and the administration should know that the longer we go without an agreement to fund the government, the greater the anxiety of millions of people in every state and community who rely on our federal government to function properly.”

More than 72 percent said they have already cutback on spending or will do so soon, which should be alarming to retailers and anyone who tracks the economic impact of holiday spending.

Here is what one employee wrote in his survey: “There will be less under the Christmas tree for my grandchildren again this year. We have to make sure we have enough money to pay the lights, gas and water companies to keep us warm.”

Reardon said the survey confirms what he has heard anecdotally in his visits with NTEU members.

“They are angry and frustrated that once again, a stalemate in Washington that they have nothing to do with could disrupt their lives,” Reardon said.

Said one employee, “Our paychecks should not be held or utilized like hostages for negotiation.”

More than half of the employees, or 52.5 percent, say a late December shutdown will interrupt or cancel holiday travel or annual leave.  Nearly two-thirds, or 63 percent, say regularly occurring shutdowns make them consider leaving federal employment.

“Did we learn nothing from the last shutdown? I thought we as a country finally recognized that middle class federal workers were innocent bystanders and they don’t deserve to suffer for someone else’s political dysfunction,” Reardon said. “NTEU calls on Congress and the administration to pass spending bills that provide federal agencies with stable, adequate resources to carry out their missions on behalf of all Americans.”

The NTEU survey also revealed anxiety over lost productivity at the workplace and the impact on taxpayers who rely on them to deliver government services. About 62 percent describe morale as low or very low.

From another NTEU member: “Nowhere in the private sector are companies allowed to not compensate employees for work rendered. The government should be the example, not the exception.”

NTEU conducted the survey from Dec. 6-11. 

NTEU represents 150,000 employees at 33 federal agencies and departments.