Feds Who Received Unemployment During Shutdown Must Return Payments

Tens of thousands of federal employees filed for unemployment benefits while furloughed.

Thousands of federal employees who received unemployment compensation while on furlough will have to return the payments to their state or city offices, as they will now receive retroactive pay for the time missed during the government shutdown.

In the state of Maryland, about 20,000 furloughed feds applied for unemployment insurance, according to Maureen O’Connor, a spokeswoman in the state’s Labor, Licensing and Regulation Department. She did not have an exact figure for the number of employees who have already received payments, but said all the benefits must be paid back.

The office is working with the federal Labor Department to determine the process of how and when the state will reclaim that money.

In Washington, D.C., about 16,000 federal employees applied for unemployment, according to WTOP, and 1,700 of them already received benefits. The city’s Employment Services Department is using emails, robo-calls and standard mailings to notify the recipients they must repay the cash. The employees have 60 days to return the payments.

Most furloughed feds stationed in D.C. received $359 per week, the maximum amount of compensation an unemployed individual can make. Employees were only eligible for one payment, as there is a one week wait period before qualifying for the compensation.

In Maryland, where the maximum benefit is $430, furloughed feds were eligible to receive their payments as soon as their unemployment status was verified. In Virginia -- another state home to many federal offices -- the maximum benefit is $378, but those employees also faced the one week wait period.

Virginia received more than 5,900 claims from furloughed feds since the shutdown began Oct. 1. The first payments did not go out until Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Employment Commission said. The state will write a letter to all employees who received unemployment compensation to notify them they must return the payment, but it will not give the workers an exact deadline.  

When the shutdown began, roughly 900,000 federal employees were furloughed with no guarantee of back pay. Congress approved the retroactive compensation as part of a larger deal that reopened government and suspended the nation’s debt ceiling, which in turn obligated anyone who received unemployment to return the payments.

Federal employees forced to work during the shutdown were guaranteed back pay from the outset and therefore did not qualify for unemployment benefits. 

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