A Transportation Security Administration employee checks in air travelers recently at Atlanta. TSA workers are considered essential and as such are working without pay and are not eligible for unemployment benefits during the partial shutdown of the federal government.

As the partial federal government shutdown enters its third week, furloughed federal employees soon will receive unemployment payments.

Nonessential federal workers have been furloughed during the shutdown, which technically means they’re entitled to unemployment benefits, according to Josh McKenna, benefits bureau chief at the Idaho Department of Labor.

“Since these individuals are unemployed right now, then absolutely they can be eligible for benefits,” McKenna said.

Essential workers, who work full-time (40 hours per week), are not eligible for unemployment benefits. Even though essential workers, such as Transportation Safety Administration employees, are working without pay, they are not considered unemployed.

“One of the main criteria to be eligible for unemployment is you have to be unemployed or partially unemployed,” McKenna said.

In Idaho, from the beginning of the shutdown on Dec. 22 to Jan. 4, 140 federal employees filed for unemployment insurance, according to data collected by the Idaho Department of Labor. Typically, payment is issued about three weeks after an application is filed, according to the Department of Labor website.

While unemployment insurance could help furloughed workers pay their bills during the shutdown, there could be consequences down the road, McKenna said. If the federal government decides to provide back pay to employees for the time off during the shutdown, employees who received unemployment benefits will have to pay that money back to the government.

“If the federal government elects to pay individuals for the time on furlough and gives them back pay, they’ll have to come back to us and report overpay,” McKenna said. “They wouldn’t be entitled to (unemployment benefits) because they received some back pay.”

Historically, the federal government has issued back pay during past shutdowns, McKenna said.

A Q&A on the Department of Labor website warns that unemployment overpayment collections are “very aggressive” and employees’ “state and federal tax returns will be intercepted as payment” if they fail to pay back benefits.

There is no end in sight for the government shutdown, which began when President Donald Trump demanded from Congress funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump said in a news conference on Friday that he may declare a national emergency at the border, USA TODAY reported. A national emergency could give the president executive power to bypass Congress and order funding for the wall.

Until the government reopens, about 800,000 federal employees are out of work, according to the Washington Post. In Idaho, the shutdown is affecting about 5,700 federal employees at the state’s top three agencies, namely, agriculture, interior and transportation, the Washington Post reported.

Reporter Ryan Suppe can be reached at 208-542-6762. Follow him on Twitter: @salsuppe.

Load comments