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Can federal employees get unemployment during the shutdown?

The partial government shutdown has now entered its second month. During this time, more than 800,000 federal government workers have had to survive without a paycheck.

This would represent an enormous financial hurdle for almost anyone. The majority of Americans live paycheck to paycheck--and 40 percent of the population has less than $400 in savings, in case of emergency. But for some federal employees, the financial strain is greater still--because they're also ineligible for unemployment benefits.

Unemployment prerequisites

To file an unemployment claim, the U.S. Department of Labor requires that two conditions be met:

  • You are out of work and
  • You are not getting paid.

For the half a million furloughed employees, their situation meets these criteria. However, for the more than 300,000 employees who are being forced to work without pay, they are out of luck. Because they are technically working--albeit for free--they do not qualify for federal unemployment benefits.

Effects of backpay

Last week, the administration passed legislation that will entitle furloughed employees to back pay--once the shutdown ends. (Previously, back pay was only guaranteed for the federal employees who have continued to work during the shutdown.)

While this may come as welcome news to furloughed employees, it is also a bit of a double-edged sword. Because they will be receiving back pay for the time they were out of work, they will have to reimburse the government for any unemployment benefits they received during that time.

The partial government shutdown is putting immense strain on the federal workforce--and the community at large. We hope for a prompt resolution to this crisis.

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