Reported USCIS budget surplus leads to calls to postpone furloughs
- By MICHAEL FRETT Staff Writer
- Jul 21, 2020 Updated Jul 22, 2020
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D — Vt., speaks at a press conference at the St. Albans Town Educational Center in October.
MICHAEL FRETT/Staff Writer
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Despite reports that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) would end this fiscal year with a surplus rather than an expected funding shortfall, the agency still plans to follow through on planned furloughs.
According to Government Executive, a news site covering the federal government, USCIS officials told employees the agency still planned to move forward on previously planned furloughs unless it received a congressional bailout despite the agency now projecting a budget surplus and ostensibly being able to cover costs through September.
The news has drawn the ire of leading Democratic officials in the U.S. Senate, including Sen. Patrick Leahy, D — Vt., who originally revealed the agency’s plan to move forward with its furloughs in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon.
In a letter dated for Tuesday and cosigned by Sen. Jon Tester, D – Mont., Leahy called for the postponement of plans for furlough nearly two-thirds of USCIS’s staff, saying the cuts would “crush the morale of the workforce” and “put an untold number of families into unnecessary financial distress.”
According to the senators’ letter, USCIS was expected to see a funding surplus at the close of the 2020 fiscal year, a dramatic reversal from a previously reported $571 million deficit that initially inspired the planned furlough of 13,000 USCIS staff members.
USCIS, the agency charged with processing applications for citizenship and visas, employs about 1,700 in its Vermont Service Center’s St. Albans and Essex offices.
Leahy’s office previously reported that 1,100 of the Vermont Service Center’s 1,700-person staff would be included within USCIS’s planned agency-wide furloughs.
In their letter, Leahy, who serves as the vice chair of the U.S. Senate’s appropriations committee, and Tester, a ranking member of the Senate’s Subcommittee on Homeland Security, called for Department of Homeland Security officials to delay their expected furlough of USCIS staff.
The two Democratic senators argued the impact of those furloughs would be especially acute amid the economic fallout of COVID-19, during which tens of millions were left out of work as state governments closed businesses and shuttered much of public life to control COVID-19’s spread.
“Now that USCIS is no longer projecting a deficit for [fiscal year] 2020, you must not sit by as thousands of American jobs are on the line, particularly during a time of unprecedented unemployment,” the senators wrote in their letter.
“It is not just these employees and their families that will be impacted by your decision to furlough them,” they added. “Thousands of United States Citizens, employers, and students rely on USCIS work, including members of the military.
“The loss of these valuable jobs will also cause hardship to the communities where these federal workers live and work – communities already struggling with the pandemic.”
Earlier this month, Congresspersons representing districts in Missouri and Nebraska, home to two other USCIS service centers, revealed legislation looking to provide emergency funding for USCIS in order to bridge what was then expected to be a funding gap for the agency and further delay expected furloughs.
Rep. Peter Welch, D – Vt., was expected to cosponsor the bill, saying it would “protect Vermonters from yet another brutal economic blow.”
With USCIS reportedly seeing a budget surplus, it is currently unclear what will come of the proposed emergency bailout funding for USCIS.
USCIS previously said it was expecting a shortfall in revenue due to COVID-19 and pandemic-related restrictions on immigration leading to fewer citizenship and visa applications.
Some, including members of Vermont’s Congressional delegation, have placed at least some of the blame for declining immigration into the U.S. on the Trump administration’s hardline approach to immigration policy.
In their letter, Leahy and Tester said they would work with USCIS in order to address a deficit the agency still projects for the 2021 fiscal year.
“With regard to your projected deficit for FY 2021, we are committed to addressing this issue in the next coronavirus supplemental so that USCIS can continue accomplishing its missions without a furlough,” the two Democratic senators wrote.
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