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As government shutdown continues, furloughed employees may rely on unemployment benefits


There are over 100,000 federal employees in New York State. Ones impacted by the government shutdown may have the option to apply for unemployment insurance. Not many have so far. WBFO’s Nick Lippa reports.

The New York State Department of Labor says they don’t know how many of their federal employees have been furloughed, but only 284 of them have applied for unemployment insurance as of late last week.

Executive Deputy Commissioner of Labor Mario Musolino said most federal employees in the past have believed they would get back to work sooner than later.

“A lot of employees will chose not to file unemployment insurance benefits. They’ll just sort of wait it out to receive back pay,” said Musolino. “Certainly as things extend longer and people need to pay their bills, they might see the unemployment insurance as an option for them to help bridge them through to when they receive their back pay.”

And when you receive back pay, Musolino said employees have to reimburse the benefits they received for unemployment insurance.

If a federal employee were to apply, there is a one week waiting period and it usually takes a week and a half to process. First payments for several who have applied during this shutdown will be sent out in the middle of January.

“Each claim is individual. So we talk to each person to understand their circumstances,” Musolino said. “For instance, while somebody is furloughed, if they chose to pick up a part-time job that would impact whether or not they could receive benefits.”

Generally speaking, the average federal employee would get $450 per week which is the maximum per week. The DOL believes many who would qualify are salary employees. The current average number in the system is around $350. It depends on the job.

“If you have a clerical worker who was making $30,000 a year, he or she would receive less than a research scientist who might be making $80,000 a year,” Musolino said.

President Trump recently said he would be willing to keep the government shutdown for months or even years.

Musolino said one way or another the federal government will have to pay workers and it will be by benefits or the reimbursement of back pay.

“The main thing they need to know is that we’re here to make sure if that they file their claim, we will process it as quickly as we can,” he said. “So if they are having trouble, especially if this goes in to many weeks or months, that we’ll be able to provide benefits to hold them over until the situation gets resolved.”

Musolino said the money comes from an unemployment insurance trust fund and is essentially funded by the federal government as an employer.

Furloughed workers who have questions about aid can call the DOL call center at 888-209-8124 or visit https://www.labor.ny.gov/ui/furloughed-federal-workers.shtm

Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.
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