State Expects Unemployment Filings To Rise Due To Shutdown

It’s been one week since the federal government shut down.

The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development expects a rise in federal workers filing for unemployment payments due to the furlough.

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The labor department started receiving calls from furloughed federal workers the first day of the shutdown. They had these types of questions:

“Am I eligible for unemployment insurance? How much can I get?”

Photo by Heather Bryant, KTOO - Juneau.
Photo by Heather Bryant, KTOO – Juneau.

Virginia Calloway is acting chief of unemployment insurance for the state.

Last week, the department put out a news release explaining how furloughed federal workers can file for unemployment compensation.

“This is a very uncertain time about what’s going on with the federal funds and I know it’s making people anxious and we’re here to try to help,” Calloway said.

Depending on how long the furlough lasts and if individual claims meet eligibility, the state would pay furloughed federal workers from the unemployment insurance fund, then bill the federal government for reimbursement after the quarter ends Dec. 31.

If federal workers receive unemployment benefits, then are paid retroactively for the time they were furloughed, Calloway says it’s unclear if they would have to repay those benefits.

“That’s a question that is up in the air but unfortunately we can’t ask the federal government because they’re closed,” she said.

“Our position would be to pay them as long as they’re eligible at the time,” Lennon Weller, who’s currently in charge of managing Alaska’s unemployment insurance trust fund. “Later on if the situation becomes that they end up getting retroactively paid for those weeks, then that’s not for us to determine at this point. I think our biggest worry is to obviously put money in people’s pockets in the immediate time frame if they’re currently obviously not working or not able to work and aren’t receiving a paycheck.”

Weller says he doesn’t know how many federal workers have filed for unemployment insurance since the government shut down, but he expects it will be higher than normal.

“It’s looking like the latest tallies that are coming which of course would be just activity that’s happened in the last day or two does seem to be indicating a significant bump in demand at least for the federal workforce or ex-federal workforce,” she said.

Weller says the maximum weekly unemployment payment is $370.00, not including dependents. If the furlough continues, the earliest payment for a federal worker who filed last week would be Oct. 15.