Federal worker fearing bankruptcy is spared furlough, for now
By Jennifer Liberto @jenlibertoOctober 1, 2013: 5:08 PM ET
Federal defense worker Rob Merritt feared he would have to file for bankruptcy if he was furloughed from the government shutdown.
Merritt showed up to work Tuesday morning, expecting to sign his furlough papers and return home.
After a harrowing day of not knowing, he found out there was good news. At least, for now.
"I'm spared for this week," he said.
Merritt was particularly worried because he's been in a deep financial crunch. He was borrowing money using credit cards to support his family of six when he was furloughed for six days during the sequester, earlier this year.
"If we were to go into a moderate government shutdown, I'd probably have to file for bankruptcy," said Merritt, 43, who works in information technology at Aberdeen Proving Ground, near Baltimore.
What's more, their pay has been frozen at 2010 levels without annual cost-of-living increases, and salary increases only for those who have been promoted. And just this month, workers learned of a 3.7% hike in premiums for their 2014 health insurance.
Federal workers furloughed from the shutdown will not be paid. But there is a chance Congress may decide to compensate them once the furlough ends, as was the case in previous shutdowns in the 1990s. (Any federal worker who is required to work during a shutdown will be paid for that work, but paychecks may be delayed.)
"Federal workers have nothing to do with bringing about the government shutdown, but they are the ones who are going to feel the impact of it the greatest," said National Federation of Federal Employees union President William Dougan.
But thanks to last minute scrambling in Congress, a bill emerged guaranteeing pay for active duty military during a government shutdown. President Obama signed the bill into law late Monday evening. Later, the Pentagon said the bill would also save the jobs of some non-military personnel.
For Merritt, it's tough. His job comes with an annual salary of $80,000, but he has lately struggled to pay a mountain of medical bills due to an emergency heart surgery in April after a heart attack last year.
His wife has been taking care of him. But she was also in the middle of career switch and has had trouble finding new work.