If the government does shutdown next week, members of the U.S. military and "essential" civilian federal employees may not get paid on time, but they will get paid. For the other federal workers who may be sent home from work, the financial future is not so clear.
Monday, September 30, is the deadline. Unless Congress resolves the latest and certainly not the last budget standoff by midnight, many agencies of the U.S. government will be forced by the Antideficiency Act to shut their doors and tell their employees to stay home.
By law, however, about 2.7 million federal employees will remain at work even during a government shutdown. They are all the members of the U.S. military and more than 1.2 million civilian employees with jobs considered essential to ensuring "national security, public safety, and health and welfare."
While the law that says all military and essential civilian employees must remain at work also says they must be paid, it does not say when.
Federal government employees get paid every two weeks -- on the 1st and 15th for military personnel -- for work performed during the preceding two weeks. So, even if a shutdown goes into effect on October 1, they would get a paycheck that day. If the shutdown ends in less than 2 weeks, the October 15 paychecks would show up on time. A longer shutdown, however, could result in late checks for military and essential civilian employees. But they would eventually get paid.
But for the more than 800,000 non-military, non-essential federal employees who would be sent home, checks due after October 15, may never come. There is no law requiring that they be paid during a shutdown or that they be paid retroactively after the shutdown ends.
The good news for these employees is that after the longest shutdown in history, which lasted 21 days during December 1995 and January 1996, Congress passed a bill directing the Treasury to reimburse them for missed paychecks.
The bad news is that already faced with the ongoing budget sequestration, Congress may not vote for back pay this time.
In addition, before all previous shutdowns, Congress had managed to pass annual budget appropriations bills authorizing funds for many of the major federal agencies, thus allowing them to keep their employees working - and being paid - during the shutdown. So far this year, those bills have not been passed.