A number of former Trump political appointees have still not received their lump-sum vacation payouts and required forms that are necessary to file for unemployment benefits as they face a tough job market in a Democratic Washington.
While HR headaches are to be expected during a government transition, some former political appointees say they were not warned there would be significant delays. And the problems faced by the seven former appointees POLITICO interviewed appear more acute than during past recent transitions.
It’s not clear, however, whether the delays are related to the rocky Trump-Biden transition or a slow federal government bureaucracy that is still working mostly from home.
Political appointees who stay to the very end of an administration often face a gap between Jan. 20 and when they land their next job, given the time it takes to network, get job interviews and then get a formal offer. Trump appointees face the added problem of job hunting in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot, which made some companies reluctant to hire former Trump appointees, in part because of fear of a backlash.
“I’m sitting here going, how do I pay my rent? How do I pay my cellphone bill?” one former Commerce appointee said in an interview.
Another former Trump Commerce official said: “I have enough money to make it a month, but when rent’s due next month, what happens then? Rent in D.C. isn’t cheap.”
Besides the vacation payouts, at least three former Commerce appointees haven’t gotten their separation packets that contain a document called the SF-50, which allows them to apply for unemployment benefits, according to another former Commerce appointee, who only just received his packet.
A Commerce Department spokesperson said in a statement: “Commerce’s HR Department is available to past appointees and more than happy to help them finish any outstanding paperwork.”
The spokesperson added that Commerce had completed separation procedures for appointees who have completed the necessary paperwork and that it was ready to assist appointees who have outstanding questions or haven’t completed all of the steps for off-boarding out of the department, which is necessary for payouts to be issued.
The lack of timely vacation payouts is not affecting just former Commerce appointees. A former Homeland Security official said she hadn’t received payout of her annual leave, which is more than 200 hours and equivalent to three months of pay. Another former senior DHS official said he also hadn’t gotten his one month of vacation payout, which comes out to about $15,000 minus taxes.
“For all pay and benefits inquiries, former DHS employees are encouraged to reach out to their servicing Human Resources office,” a DHS spokesperson said in a statement.
It’s not known how widespread the payment delays are or the exact cause, but there have been other personnel hiccups during the transition, which was especially rocky because of former President Donald Trump’s refusal to acknowledge President Joe Biden’s win. POLITICO previously reported that a number of Trump appointees unexpectedly lost their parental leave benefits when Biden was sworn into office.
While some Trump appointees have been able to land jobs on Capitol Hill or in the private sector, many of them are still looking, and one called the job market for Trump appointees “a little slow” and said that she’d received no offers yet.
Two former Commerce political appointees who served at the end of the Obama administration said that their vacation payouts weren’t delayed as long, and that there weren’t major delays in getting appointees their separation packets.
“I don’t remember it being a problem,” said one of the former Obama Commerce officials. “I don’t remember us having any issues.” Another former official got his vacation payout in the middle of February of 2017.
Some of the former Trump appointees say they are getting increasingly frustrated with the prolonged delays in the payouts, although others have started to get them recently.
“I don’t understand how it’s taking so long to figure out how much comp time you have and how much you’re owed and why that isn’t falling directly into my account,” one former Trump appointee said. “Jan. 20 was never a moving target.” While he has only 72 hours of unused comp time because he was new at the department, he said some people have hundreds of hours.
“A lot of the politicals are not getting jobs, so a lot of them were relying on the lump-sum payments to get them through the next few months,” a third former Trump appointee said.
A separate issue some former Trump appointees are facing is temporarily extending their federal government health insurance through COBRA, although such insurance would be paid by the appointees themselves.
While there’s a 31-day grace period in which appointees still get health insurance, several told POLITICO that the government hadn’t given them the proper forms to apply for COBRA, and one said that when he went to a doctor recently, the office couldn’t find evidence of his insurance.
One said the delay was “leaving a lot of people asking: Am I going to lose health care for the time that the processing center would take to get our information into the system?”
“A lot of people are freaking out,” another said.