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Ryan E. O'Hare

Can Locked Out Federal Workers Apply for Unemployment?

Some can, but there are pitfalls to apply so be aware

Kris LaGrange's picture
Jan 08, 2019

With the government shutdown and no end in sight, federal workers who are locked out or who are being forced to work without pay will miss their first paychecks on Friday, January 11th. As we reported yesterday, many government employees will have to make a decision between paying the rent, paying for food and paying for gas to get to work. In most states locked out, federal workers can apply for unemployment benefits, but this comes with some pitfalls.

In most states on the first day of a government shutdown furloughed or locked out workers are eligible to apply for unemployment benefits. According to Federal News Radio, most states offer up to 26 weeks of benefits and the checks could range from $50- $450 per week, which is significantly less than what most federal employees would normally make. However, benefits in most states take between 2 and 3 weeks to begin. This means that if you applied on day 1 of the lockout you would just begin receiving benefits this week.

Many veterans of government shutdowns don’t file for unemployment on day 1. Since it takes 14-21 days to begin receiving benefits, most feel they will go through the entire process for nothing. There are also some strings attached. If the government decides to retroactively pay a federal worker, that employee will be required to pay back any money that they received from their unemployment benefits. They would also be required to pay taxes on both the unemployment benefits and any back pay they receive. In the past, Congress has retroactively paid federal employees once the shutdown ended.

For federal workers who are required to go to work, but are not receiving paychecks, many are out of luck. About 425,000 people who work for agencies like the TSA, Bureau of Prisons, and the Coast Guard have been required to work during the shutdown. Since they are not deemed “available to work” they would not qualify for unemployment benefits. According to the New York State Labor Department, any person that is working (whether they are paid or not) is ineligible to collect benefits.

Not only is Trump forcing 425,000 people to work without pay, but he is also forcing another 800,000 into a perilous financial situation by forcing them to take out what amounts to a loan from their states unemployment insurance fund. All of this impact on working men and women because Trump wants to build his wall of hate.

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