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What to know about unemployment insurance during furloughs

Most federal employees know that the partial government shutdown is in full swing and there is no end in sight. For the most part, there is little federal workers can do but wait and see what happens.

Some federal workers in essential roles are still required to work even though they are not receiving paychecks. Others are furloughed, meaning they cannot even volunteer their services but are in a no-pay, no-duty status. Essential workers will almost certainly be paid for their work during the shut-down period. Although retroactive pay requires Congressional approval, it has been granted in the past. It is also possible that furloughed employees will receive back pay and repayment for vacations scheduled during the furlough.

Some good news: Your health coverage is expected to continue throughout the furlough. The Federal Employees Health Benefits program will continue to cover you even though your employer is not making the premiums on time. Your premiums will be withheld once you return to pay status.

You can apply for unemployment insurance in the state/District where you work

In the interim, many federal workers may wish to apply for unemployment insurance benefits. Each jurisdiction's eligibility rules vary, but furloughed workers are generally eligible as long as they meet all other eligibility criteria. You may be asked to provide a Form SF-50, earnings and leave statement, and perhaps a Form SF-8.

Most jurisdictions pay 26 weeks of regular benefits. The maximum benefit amount is determined by the state/District law. If you are approved, most jurisdictions will begin issuing payments within two to three weeks from the date the claim is filed. You should work with the unemployment insurance agency to determine what to do once the partial shutdown ends.

Retroactive wage payments may trigger repayment of unemployment insurance

Once the shutdown ends and Congress decides who should receive retroactive wage payments, you may find that you will receive retroactive wages for the same period in which you received unemployment insurance. In most states and the District of Columbia, this is considered an overpayment of unemployment benefits and the overpaid benefits will need to be repaid.

Work directly with the state UI agency to determine what happens next. Some state laws require the employer to recover the overpayments. In many states, wage garnishment could be used to recover the overpayments. However, workers were generally be given a chance to repay the overpayment voluntarily. Also, some states will accept repayment on an installment basis.

You can find out more about unemployment insurance during the furlough, including a map of state UI agency websites, from the OPM's furlough guidance page.

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