Democrats renew push for contractor back pay from government shutdown

Democratic senators are pushing their colleagues to support an amendment that would provide back pay for low-wage government contractors who went without pay during the record 35-day shutdown earlier this year.

When Congress passed a spending bill to reopen the government in January, lawmakers provided back pay for federal employees who had been furloughed and those who had been required to work without pay.

But many workers employed by contractors for security, cleaning or food service jobs were not compensated for the month of lost wages.

“They were ready and willing to work every single day of the 35-day shutdown, but they couldn’t,” said Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), who introduced a back pay amendment to a package of spending bills the Senate is considering this week.

The amendment, which was included in a House-passed spending measure, would allow contracting companies to apply for funding to provide back pay for workers.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a co-sponsor of the amendment, said the affected workers earn as little as $450 a week and are still suffering from the lost pay.

“These are not people living high on the hog,” he said.

If the amendment is adopted, the provision will almost certainly make it into the final spending bill since it’s already in the House version. If the Senate rejects the amendment, negotiators could push for leaving the House provision intact in the final version.

The amendment would only provide retroactive pay for the most recent shutdown. It would not apply to future shutdowns.

Congress has until Nov. 21 to pass spending legislation or an extension of current funding in order to prevent another shutdown. The lack of progress in negotiations, primarily centered around President Trump’s proposed border wall, has led to concerns in the Senate that a new temporary spending bill might extend funding into February or March.

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