The House on Friday passed a bill to grant backpay to federal workers who have been furloughed or required to work without pay during the partial government shutdown, approving a measure that already cleared the Senate.
The bill still requires a signature from President Donald Trump, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicated Thursday that the president told him he would sign it if it reached his desk.
The Senate unanimously passed the measure, and all but seven Republican members in the House voted in favor of it.
Polling indicates that Americans are more likely to blame Trump for the shutdown than congressional Democrats. Not approving the backpay measure could come off as an unnecessarily cruel decision from the president. Lawmakers have always approved backpay for workers when previous shutdowns have put people out of work.
The legislation is a welcome development for the 380,000 workers who are furloughed and not working and the 420,000 “essential” personnel who are clocking in but not receiving paychecks while certain government functions are going without funding. But those workers still have bills to pay and won’t receive their wages until the government reopens and enough time passes to process payroll.
The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, an advocacy group for federal workers, said the legislation provides “some comfort” to the federal workforce but isn’t “an immediate solution” to the mounting problems created by the shutdown, which began on Dec. 22.
“Federal employees are scrambling to make arrangements for unpaid bills, including tapping their retirement accounts,” Ken Thomas, the group’s president, said in a statement. “Evictions are becoming a real possibility, medical issues go untended, local economies are suffering and services to citizens have ceased as workloads pile up.”
The partial government shutdown marked its 21st day on Friday, and it is now tied for the position of the longest shutdown on record. Trump is demanding $5.7 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that he used to say Mexico would pay for. Democrats have refused to give him that money. The president has said he is considering declaring a national emergency to secure the funding, a move that would inevitably draw legal challenges.
Because of the impasse, Congress has not appropriated money for roughly one-quarter of the federal government, leading to furloughs at agencies such as the Interior Department and the Department of Homeland Security. For thousands of workers, Friday marked the first typical payday without any pay.
Workers are planning to use several strategies to eke by without steady income, including taking out loans, applying for unemployment benefits, borrowing money from family members and even forgoing medication.
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