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Free Skiing for Government Workers Stung by Shutdown, as Vt. Congressman Aims to Protect Employees in Future

Rep. Peter Welch wants to require the federal government to keep pay flowing to employees

Vermont’s lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives unveiled new legislation that would require the federal government to pay workers during any possible future shutdowns—saying they should “never again” go without pay during any impasses between lawmakers and the president.

“This is totally unjustifiable and completely unnecessary,” Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, said Tuesday of how federal workers are not being paid during the current partial government shutdown, which reached 32 days Tuesday.

Welch said he expects bipartisan support for the bill, and thanked federal workers both for their dedication and for helping shape his approach to the legislation.

The Democrat also called for the government to reopen during the current impasse.

“This is an example of a broken presidency and to some extent, of a broken Congress,” Welch said of the shutdown. “We’ve got to make it work.”

Welch said he signed onto a letter co-authored with several House colleagues that was sent to President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.

The letter suggests a return to “normal order” through hearings and an open House debate on border security—which is how Welch said differences should be hashed out, instead of through shutdowns.

“I think every day it goes on, it gets worse,” National Weather Service employee Marlon Verasamy said of the impact on the shutdown on affected federal employees.

Verasamy, who was speaking off government time on behalf of the Burlington members of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, told necn he and many federal employees he knows are becoming increasingly demoralized working without paychecks, and are canceling personal plans or cutting way back on spending to avoid cash flow crunches.

“And if it drags on into February, you’ll see people will have to start making some tough decisions on if [their career fields are] something that they will continue to do or do they need to find other avenues, unfortunately,” Verasamy said.

Tuesday, the Vermont Department of Labor announced Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, and state lawmakers directed that federal workers who aren’t being paid are eligible to receive unemployment insurance benefits to help them with bills.

An estimated 1,300-1,500 federal workers in Vermont have been affected by the halting of federal paychecks, according to state leaders.

Whenever the federal government reopens and those workers get their back pay, they’d be required to reimburse the state for that unemployment money, the announcement from the labor department pointed out.

“There are Vermonters who have been showing up to work every day, but not getting a paycheck, for more than a month,” Vermont Labor Commissioner Lindsay Kurrle said in a written statement. “There is no end in sight for [the] federal shutdown and the governor and legislators have asked us to help these individuals feed their families, pay their bills, and put gas in their cars.”

Two Vermont ski areas have also announced furloughed government workers or federal employees working without pay can visit for free for the remainder of the shutdown.

Mad River Glen is offering free lift passes to federal employees affected by the shutdown.

The ski area said it has had to furlough seasonal staff in the past, in winters with little snow, so wanted to repay similar gestures those people received.

“It’s not a political thing; it’s not a marketing thing,” said Matt Lillard, the general manager of Mad River Glen. “We just really feel strongly that as a cooperatively-owned community ski area, that we want to be out there supporting our fellow citizens and our fellow community and that’s why we’re doing it.”

The Mad River Glen offer is available on weekdays only, and not during the President’s Day holiday week—if the shutdown goes that long, Lillard said.

Mad River Glen only allows skiing, but federal employees affected by the shutdown who prefer to snowboard could take advantage of a similar offer from Sugarbush Resort.

Sugarbush is offering free passes to unpaid workers and their immediate families who ski or ride—only charging a $5 fee for the microchip in the badges.

“Not receiving a paycheck for nearly four weeks is a huge burden for families,” Win Smith, Sugarbush’s president, said in a written statement accompanying the resort’s announcement. “We certainly hope that our representatives in Washington can reach a compromise soon and get everyone back to work. In the meantime, we wanted to offer those on furlough and their families an opportunity to enjoy the camaraderie of skiing and riding especially when conditions are so nice.”

Sugarbush’s offer ends when the shutdown is over and is not valid on holidays, the resort said.

Both ski areas ask for federal IDs and a letter confirming a worker is affected in order to get the free passes.

Marlon Verasamy said he appreciates the support affected federal workers are seeing, but added he hopes the shutdown ends—and soon.

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