With the Washington shutdown, last Friday may be the last payday for many federal workers until things are resolved. CBS reported on Oct. 5 that the House voted to give federal workers their pay once the partial government shutdown ends, but the Senate has been able to get enough votes. In the meantime, federal workers who lose pay during the government shutdown can file for unemployment benefits in most states.
File for benefits now
Regardless of how the situation plays out, attorney David Ricksecker (Woodley & McGillivary), advises furloughed employees to file for the benefits right away.
"It is best furloughed federal workers not assume Congress will retroactively pay lost wages."
It's also important to knot that it may take two or three weeks for claims to be processed. Not only that, but no one knows for sure how long it will take to resolve the shutdown with the current unwillingness of the Senate to negotiate, so it is best not to put off filing to get the process started.
Potential for double dipping
Another thing federal employees must take into consideration when filing for unemployment is that if Congress chooses to retroactively pay those workers once things are resolved, those who received unemployment benefits would have inadvertently double dipped into the system. As a result they would have to return the money.
Right now it is unclear whether furloughed workers will eventually receive back pay or not when the shutdown ends. States with large numbers of federal employees including Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania have posted advisories on their sites that they plan to request the funds be repaid in the event they overpay unemployment benefits to federal workers.
"If you receive back pay from your agency to cover the furlough period, you must repay any unemployment benefits you received for that timel" -- the Virginia Employment Commission
Essential personnel not eligible
Federal workers belong to two categories: essential and non-essential. Those deemed essential and asked to report to work will receive their pay, but it may be delayed. Due to this, they are not eligible for unemployment benefits, but non-essential workers who were forced to take off without pay until the shutdown is over are eligible because they are on temporary layoff through no fault of their own.
The U.S. Department of Labor has issued a fact sheet for furloughed employees which is designed to answer questions since there is no staff to take phone calls.