Thousands of Federal Employees File for Unemployment Amid Shutdown

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More than 10,000 federal employees have filed claims for unemployment insurance in the capital area since the government shut down Tuesday, according to state and local offices.

In Washington, D.C., about 5,000 employees have filed claims in the first two and a half days of the shutdown, according to Lisa Mallory, director of the city’s Employee Services Department. More than 300,000 federal employees work in Washington, and while most of them live outside the city limits, the workers must file unemployment claims where they report for duty.

In Maryland, the state’s Labor Department received more claims in the first day of the shutdown than it typically receives from federal employees in an entire year. As of Wednesday at noon, furloughed federal employees had filed about 6,500 claims in the state, according to Maureen O’Connor, a department spokeswoman.

Employees can receive compensation in Maryland as soon as their claim is processed and verified; D.C. and Virginia workers must wait one week, meaning the shutdown would have to continue past Tuesday, Oct. 8 to receive compensation.

Despite the influx, the offices maintained they have prepared for the shutdown and can process the claims without accumulating much of a backlog. O’Connor said employees in the Maryland unemployment office have coordinated vacation time in anticipation of the wave of claims from furloughed feds.

“We’ve geared up,” she told Government Executive.

The Washington, D.C.,  government would typically shut down with the federal government, as its funding technically goes through the federal appropriations process. Mayor Vince Gray is using the city’s emergency funds to keep its government open, however, allowing the Employee Services Department to continue to process unemployment claims.

“Right now we think we have the manpower to get through it,” Mallory said, adding the agency’s workforce of 500 would be reduced to 37 if the city’s government shut down.

The speed with which claims are processed also depends on how much information furloughed employees provide, but Mallory added the fact that many federal agencies are closed during the shutdown would not impede her office’s ability to verify employment.

Most furloughed federal employees who work in Washington can expect to collect $359 per week, the maximum amount of compensation an unemployed individual can make. In Virginia, that figure is $378 per week.

If Congress opts to issue retroactive pay to furloughed employees, as it has done in previous government shutdowns, the employees would then have to return whatever unemployment compensation they received. Mallory said her office “has the ability to recoup these wages.” 

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