Unemployment, other help available for furloughed feds

Friday - 4/8/2011, 11:23am EDT

Jason Miller

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

As the reality of a shutdown nears, federal employees expressed their frustration Thursday night during a town hall meeting in Alexandria, Va. hosted by Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.). And some wanted to know where they could get help if the government shuts down for an extended period of time.

OPM's frequently asked questions say some employees may be eligible to file for unemployment.

"Some states require a one-week waiting period before an individual qualifies for payments," the agency wrote. "Agencies or employees should submit questions to the appropriate state (or District of Columbia) office. In general, the law of the state in which an employee's last official duty station in federal civilian service was located will be the state law that determines eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits."

For federal employees in the Washington, D.C. area:

  • Maryland - Qualified for unemployment from the first day of a shutdown. Maximum of $430 per week.
  • Virginia - Qualified after one week off the job. Maximum of $378 per week.
  • D.C. - Qualified after one week off the job. Maximum of $359 per week.

Federal workers in West Virginia also would qualify. But, feds should know, if Congress would approve back pay, employees would have to pay back the unemployment money they received.

Dina Long, a spokeswoman for the National Treasury Employees Union, said at the town hall meeting there are other places to go for help.

"There is the Federal Employees Emergency Education and Assistance Fund, which is a charity that the NTEU and other unions support as well," Long said. "That is a charity that provides emergency loans to federal employees. So if you are having trouble paying your electric bill or paying your rent, you can go to FEEA.org for information. We will be asking federal employees who continue to work to donate to that fund as well."

Moran warned that employees should prepare for the worst, including a protracted furlough that could last up to three weeks. He added that Congress approving retroactive pay for non-exempted employees is far from guaranteed.

"I wouldn't take the idea of getting paid after the furlough for granted," he said. "There is little sentiment in the Congress to reimburse employees."

Moran said he will introduce a bill Friday, along with Reps. Frank Wolfe (R-Va.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and other local members, to ensure furloughed employees get fully paid.

"I don't expect the bill to get much support across the board," he said. "I would conserve money to be sure. I hope, I expect that if there is a shutdown it will last only the weekend, but we have a two-week break coming up for a district work period and the furlough could extend into May."

Long added that NTEU wrote a letter to lawmakers Thursday asking for furloughed employees to be paid.

"We also are preparing a lawsuit to establish that employees who are required to work during a shutdown will be paid and will be paid in a timely manner," she said.

The fact that Congress could go on a district work period frustrated several audience members. One Federal Aviation Administration employee asked Moran who she could contact to keep Congress open.

Moran recommended contacting Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

"If they chose to, they could make that decision," he said. "But I'm not sure the more time we stay in session and the more time we go back and forth we will resolve this. If we can't reach agreement, it may not be all that bad a thing for members to be back in their districts…listening to their constituents. That might be one way to resolve the impasse."

Other employees and contractors just offered comments such as one Transportation Department employee who said the shutdown is because 535 people failed to do their jobs.

Or a 34-year employee of the Social Security Administration and a local leader of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), who said the administration has done a poor job communicating with employees.

"We are not the problem, federal employees didn't cause the deficit," said Tom Webb, who works at SSA on claims processing. "The way employees are treated is unacceptable."

"None of us know if there will be a shutdown, but I wouldn't be here if I thought the likelihood of a shutdown wasn't high," Moran said in response to a question from a retired member of the military asking why the congressman was holding the town hall instead of being at the Capitol.