A legislative committee delayed action Thursday on an emergency bill to provide financial relief to furloughed federal workers or those working without pay during future federal government shutdowns.
The Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee decided to table a vote on the bill until next week, when a new federal shutdown could start. No one opposed the bill during Thursday’s hearing, and it’s expected that members on Tuesday will recommend passage. However, that would give the House and Senate just one more scheduled day of floor votes to take action before Feb. 15, when a new shutdown could start.
The proposal, LD 477, sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, would guarantee any of the roughly 1,100 Mainers employed by the federal government access to as much as $15,000 in interest-free loans from their local bank or credit union if a future shutdown lasts longer than 14 days.
The bill, introduced during the 35-day shutdown that ended late last month, was reworked by the committee Thursday afternoon. It would apply during any partial or full shutdown through the end of 2019.
Any federal employee going without pay would be eligible to receive up to $5,000 in three staggered installments, depending on the length of the shutdown.
The federal government reopened temporarily last month, but another shutdown looms if lawmakers in Washington don’t reach a deal about whether to fund President Donald Trump’s southern border wall by Feb. 15.
Late last month, Gov. Janet Mills urged legislators to hasten passage of the bill so she could sign it into law in time to offset further financial harm to federal employees in Maine.
The committee is not scheduled to meet again until next Tuesday afternoon, meaning that the House and Senate would have to complete floor votes on Thursday to get the bill to Mills before the next potential federal government shutdown. The bill needs two-thirds support in both chambers to take effect immediately.
The loans, administered by the Finance Authority of Maine, would become available two weeks after the bill is passed into law.