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Federal workers brace for second shutdown

Most agencies would stay open this time

December 13, 1995
Web posted at: 9:30 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As GOP leaders and the White House haggle the fine and not-so-fine points of the balanced-budget plan, another government shutdown looms. This time, workers are bracing for the worse, but it may not help.

About 280,000 federal workers will be laid off unless a new temporary spending measure is passed by midnight Friday, according to the Office of Management and Budget. In last month's shutdown, about 800,000 federal employees were furloughed.

Among the departments that would be affected this time around:

  • About 33,000 of the more than 205,000 employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs would be furloughed. But unlike the past shutdown, 1,500 benefit counselors will remain on the job to answer veterans' questions, and 200 mailroom employees will stay on to mail out benefits checks, according to Veterans Affairs spokesman Terry Jemison.

    However, if there is a shutdown and no continuing resolution before 8 a.m. December 21, monthly checks which are sent to disabled veterans, low income veterans, and family members of veterans would be delayed, Jemison said.

    The department mails out about 3 million checks each month, 2.2 million to disabled veterans and 800,000 to low income vets and their families.

  • The Social Security Administration would keep about 56,000, out of a total of 66,000 workers on hand, according to spokesman Phil Gambino. During the previous shutdown, only about 4,800 employees stayed on the job during the first week of the shutdown, while an additional 50,000 were going to be sent back to work if the shutdown continued.

    All of the 1,300 Social Security field offices would be open, and unlike the previous shutdown, new applications for retirement benefits, disability benefits, and Medicare and survivor benefits would be accepted.

  • National parks and monuments -- some in the midst of special holiday programs -- would close again Saturday, unless a pending Interior Department spending bill is enacted in time. The same goes for the Smithsonian museums in Washington and New York.

  • Travelers would get more bad news on Monday: Passports and visas would be issued only in emergency cases.

    Roughly 1.7 million would continue working under a shutdown. They include federal employees covered by the seven appropriation bills already passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton and those considered "emergency" personnel at agencies whose budgets have not been approved.

    Spending bills for the transportation, Treasury, and defense departments and the legislative branch have already been signed by the president and would be unaffected by a new shutdown.

    The agencies which still do not have appropriations for 1996 include the departments of interior, education, justice, commerce, state, labor, veterans' affairs, housing, and health and human services. Spending bills covering the District of Columbia, the judiciary, and foreign operations are also pending.

    The 800,000 employees of the U.S. Postal Service and the uniformed military would not be affected.

    Federal workers union fights back

    A union representing 700,000 federal government employees and many District of Columbia employees is keeping up its legal fight against shutdown measures, including requiring employees to work without pay and the assignment of "emergency" personnel.

    The American Federation of Government Employees filed a brief Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the government's motion that the union's case be dismissed. the brief urged the court to rule on the lawsuit before another government shutdown occurs.

    The lawsuit was filed on November 14, the start of the first government shutdown. On November 17, a federal judge denied a request from the union for a temporary restraining order which would prevent the federal government from requiring employees to work without pay during a government shutdown.

    Judge Emmet Sullivan has scheduled a conference for 3 p.m. EDT Friday at with both parties to review the case.

    The union is also targeting members of Congress with a letter campaign. On Tuesday, John Sturdivant, national president of the federal employees' union, sent a letter to all members of the House of Representatives to oppose a bill which would restrict the Treasury Secretary's authority to use federal retirement funds if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling.

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