A furloughed federal employee’s guide to filing for unemployment during the shutdown

Now closing on nearly two weeks long, prospects are dim for some federal employees who are expecting their first paycheck of 2019 on time next week.

Federal employees can, in most circumstances, file for unemployment benefits during a government shutdown. The Office of Personnel Management has recently updated information on how federal workers can file for unemployment insurance during the partial government shutdown.

Employees’ eligibility for unemployment varies by state. In most circumstances, the state where an employee’s official duty station is located is the state that will determine a worker’s unemployment eligibility in the Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees Program. State unemployment insurance agencies administer this program on behalf of the federal government.

Federal employees who are eligible can apply for unemployment benefits on or after the first day of their furlough.

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To file an unemployment claim, federal employees should first contact the state where they work to get started, OPM said. Some states may require employees to wait a week after filing a claim before they receive a payment. In general, most states will issue benefits within 14-to-21 days after an employee filed a claim, according to OPM.

Each state has different requirements that federal employees must meet first to unemployment eligibility.

Most states pay a maximum of 26 weeks of regular benefits, according to OPM, but the benefits themselves vary depending on location.

For employees who work in the District of Columbia, D.C. will pay up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. Benefits will range from $50-to-$425 a week, according to this reference table of state unemployment insurance laws and information.

The situation is different in Virginia, which will pay unemployment benefits for 12-to-26 weeks. Benefits will range from $60-to-$378 a week.

In Maryland, benefits will be paid for up to 26 weeks and will range from $50-to-$430 a week.

Of course, more than 80 percent of the federal workforce works and lives outside of the Washington metropolitan area. California, which is home to the highest number of federal employees in the country, will pay benefits for 14-to-26 weeks. Weekly payments will range from $40-to-$450.

For a full list of unemployment laws in each state, visit this quick reference.

Federal agencies themselves get billed on a quarterly basis for unemployment compensation benefits paid out to their employees. The Labor Department is responsible for sending unemployment compensation bills to each agency based on information from individual state insurance agencies.

These state insurance agencies will notify federal agencies when an employee has filed an unemployment claim. Federal agencies have up to 12 days to respond, according to OPM.

Securing unemployment insurance could potentially alleviate the “temporary shock” that a government shutdown can have on furloughed federal employees and their finances.

Employees who received late paychecks during past government shutdowns saw a significant and sudden impact on their checking and savings accounts, according to a 2015 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. The bureau study found the median federal worker had just enough assets to cover eight days of average spending before the 2013 shutdown. Before payday, the median federal employee had enough assets for five days of average spending during the 16-day shutdown.

What happens when the shutdown ends?

Policies vary based on individual states, but most states won’t allow unemployment beneficiaries to simply cancel their claims if the shutdown ends and their claim was uphold and benefits were issued.

Whenever the partial government shutdown ends, federal employees will be required to repay unemployment benefits they received whenever they get back pay for the time spent during the lapse in appropriations.

This scenario is highly likely. Congress has, in fact, passed legislation that grants employees retroactive pay for the time they spent on furlough during past government shutdowns, and lawmakers will likely clear similar legislation again. The Senate has already passed such legislation for this current partial shutdown, but the House has yet to act.

“The state [unemployment insurance] agency determines whether or not an overpayment exists and, generally, the recovery of the overpayment is a matter for state action under its law,” OPM guidance reads. “However, some state UI laws require the employer to recover such overpayment.”

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