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As Shutdown Enters Fourth Week, PA’s Federal Workers File For Unemployment

Jacquelyn Martin
President Donald Trump leads a roundtable discussion on border security with local leaders, Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington.

More than 12,000 federal workers are furloughed in Pennsylvania as lawmakers in Washington struggle to figure out a way to end the longest-ever partial government shutdown.

That means a lot of those people can apply for state unemployment benefits.

Deputy Unemployment Compensation Secretary Bill Trusky said between Dec. 22, when the shutdown began, and Jan. 9, 2,334 federal workers filed claims.

That’s up from the roughly 150 federal workers who applied during the same period last year. Trusky said it amounts to about a 15 percent increase in overall claims.

“Wait times have increased by an average of eight minutes per call from the same time last year,” he said.”

Susan Dickinson, who directs the office of Unemployment Compensation Benefits Policy, noted that it’s hard to say whether the longer waiting times are fully attributable to the shutdown. But what is clear, she said, is that the UC system is busier than usual.

Unlike other employers, the federal government doesn’t regularly inform the state about the wages its workers are making. According to Dickinson, that means when those workers file claims, the state has to reach out the federal employer—which may itself be under-staffed thanks to the shutdown—to get that information.

“We have staff reassigned to work more of those claims…just to make sure that that doesn’t get backed up,” she said.

While many of the furloughed employees are totally out of work, others are considered essential, which means they’re legally required to stay on the job.

Trusky said even though they’re not getting paid, they’re not considered unemployed.

“Unfortunately, our law states clearly that if you are working, you are not eligible to receive benefits,” he said.

There is also a downside for the people who do get compensated.

Once the shutdown ends and they receive back wages, Trusky said they’ll have to pay back the benefits. Generally, that money comes out of their paychecks.

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