It’s Valentine’s Day, but we’re not feeling the love for the newly reached agreement to avoid another government shutdown. Of course no one wanted the government to close again and we’re pleased that a crisis has likely been averted, but the legislative text of the agreement could have served as a vehicle to help those who are still trying to recover from the aftermath of the longest government shutdown in history. This includes thousands of AbilityOne contract employees with disabilities (some of whom work on contracts administered by local Goodwill® organizations, have experienced severe financial hardship as a result of being furloughed in the most recent government closure.
For many AbilityOne employees, living without a paycheck for over a month created considerable debt as they struggled to makes ends meet. While federal employees received back pay for the time they were unable to work, these contract employees, who labor side-by-side with their federal government counterparts, did not.
The spending package, known as an “Omnibus”, is a compilation of seven-bills that covers Homeland Security, Agriculture-FDA, Commerce-Justice-Science, Financial Services, Interior-Environment, State and Foreign Operations and Transportation-HUD spending. The Financial Services measure would give federal workers a 1.9 percent pay raise, and the Commerce-Justice-Science measure would boost Census Bureau funds by $1 billion as officials prepare for the 2020 survey.
The Agrculture-FDA measure includes $3.64 billion for Rural Development, including $625 million in funding dedicated for infrastructure investments in Rural America. This total is $1.84 billion above the President’s budget request. In addition, $550 million will be available for the rural broadband loan and grant pilot program, which is $50 million below the FY2018 enacted level and rejects the President’s proposed elimination of the program. We are pleased that the package provides $73.477 billion for the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP), which will fully fund the program in 2019.
While we are disappointed that back pay for federal contractors was not one of the measures included in the bill (despite having support from both chamber and both parties), it does not mean that our advocacy efforts were in vain. Bipartisan support for providing contractor back pay remains and several bills that would provide back pay are still in play. Federal contractors are well-positioned to get a provision included in another legislative vehicle. With the support of Goodwill advocates, there is a lot to be proud of including: our collective advocacy, the media garnered, the hundreds of letters sent via GII’s Legislative Action Center, the local Goodwill organizations who provided data and stories of those impacted, the Goodwill leaders who made an extra effort in calling lawmakers and sending customized letters (which resulted in garnering bipartisan support), the floor statements and tweets from Members of Congress talking about this issue. We aren’t giving up on our relationship with lawmakers and will continue to educate them about this important issue and many others that effect local Goodwill organizations and the communities they serve.