Feds' need for emergency loans has skyrocketed over past five years

Monday - 8/15/2011, 11:06am EDT

Robyn Kehoe, director of field operations, FEEA

Click here to listen to the interview.

Download mp3

So far, August is shaping up to be a tough month for many federal employees — including the 4,000 Federal Aviation Administration workers who were furloughed for a couple of weeks.

The Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund exists for just such emergencies.

But, lately, even it has been surprised by the volume of need from federal workerrs, the organization's director of field operations, told Federal News Radio.

Even though the furlough is now over, employees might not ever see retroactive pay, said Robyn Kehoe, the director of FEEA's field operations. To fill that gap, she said, the organization is offering up to $1,000 in interest-free loans for employees hit by the furlough. That particular temporary layoff was especially hard-hitting because it cut across two pay periods, Kehoe said, meaning furloughed workers will only take home about half their usual monthly pay this month.

The loan is part of the group's general assistance emergency program, she explained. "It's something that we do for federal employees, actually, every day," she added. Once federal employees sign up for the program, the organization will pay employees' creditors — for bills due, for example — directly. Employees then pay back the loan through a payroll allotment system over the course of several paychecks, Kehoe said.

She said FEEA was "quite concerned" that the FAA furloughs could be repeated if Congress, when it returns from its August recess, can't agree on another funding measure for the aviation agency. "We see this as possibly a harbinger of things to come, which is not great for federal employees at all. And we're trying to make plans now ... to make sure that we have the money that we need in the coffers to be able to offer this to any employees who might be furloughed."

Even without the FAA furlough, Kehoe said the number of feds asking for assistance from the organization over the past few years has skyrocketed.

The need for the general assistance fund has nearly tripled over the past five years, she said. The group provided about $500,000 in emergency loans last year, alone, she added — often due to personal and family emergencies.

And the group only expects the need for emergency assistance to grow, she said.

"This economy is certainly affecting federal employees just as much as everyone else," she said. "And we are concerned that as the budget fights go on, and federal employees are caught in the middle, that we will need to be prepared to do quite a bit more."

In just this month alone, FEEA has processed 67 loans — or about three loans a day.

With Congress as deadlocked as it's ever been and the end of the fiscal-year quickly approaching, the specter of a government shutdown, which last reared its head in April, has once again entered the picture.

"We had a contingency plan in place in the spring in the event of a shutdown and we have that still in place should that happen this fall," she said. "We certainly hope it doesn't. But we are being as prepared as we can be in the case that it does happen."