ANNAPOLIS — Federal workers in Maryland forced to work through this year’s 35-day federal government shutdown will receive reprieve if another occurs.
Gov. Larry Hogan led a brief bill-signing ceremony Tuesday in the governor’s reception room for the law to go into effect immediately.
“I think this is a great step in the right direction,” Hogan said. “We don’t want this to happen again. If it does, that we’re able to help provide benefits to these folks who deserve it.”
Hogan sat between Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and Del. Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County), who also serves as speaker pro tem when House Speaker Michael Busch isn’t present.
Essential employees who must report to work without pay during a future government shutdown can receive no-interest loans for workers at federal sites in Maryland. The money would come from a designated fund.
The governor can also transfer money to the fund from the state’s Catastrophic Event Account established in 1990 “to respond quickly to a natural disaster or catastrophe that could not be addressed within existing state appropriations.”
According to a fiscal note, almost 43,000 federal workers in Maryland became affected by the 35-day shutdown due to President Donald Trump requesting nearly $6 billion to build a wall along the Mexican border. About half worked without pay and the rest were furloughed.
Maryland has a more than 170,000 federal workers.
Miller said the first bill signing of this year’s legislative session shows bipartisanship between the Republican administration and majority Democratic legislature.
“It’s cooperation,” he said. “Coming together and staying together. Democrats and Republican. This is about protecting our federal employees.”
The bill also allows the state to provide unemployment insurance if the federal government changes the law, which currently doesn’t allow states to offer that benefit.
Because it’s a loan, workers must repay the state once they return to work and receive back pay.
Sen. Brian Feldman (D-Montgomery County), who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said the shutdown showed an anomaly in the law.
“I don’t think we all realized that you have two separate categories of workers: one eligible for unemployment and the essential workers had to go to work without pay [and] eligible for nothing,” he said. “Because of the length, people actually started asking ‘Am I eligible for unemployment? Who’s eligible? What are the criteria?’ I think it was the 35 days as opposed to three days or five days that this all kind of came to light.”