Furloughed federal workers can collect unemployment

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Brad Jones Contributor
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Federal workers sitting home during the partial federal shutdown — and those already packing for a long weekend — can expect help from the Colorado unemployment insurance fund.

According to a fact sheet on the state’s website, federal workers and even government contractors whose paychecks are interrupted due to congressional impasse can collect payments, though the shutdown must last over a week before doing so.

Claims for unemployment benefits made by federal workers in many ways resemble those for workers victim to the faltering economy. A key difference, though: federal workers must not seek other work, since they’re “job attached.” Colorado law normally requires beneficiaries to show progress in seeking gainful employment and register with a local “workforce center.”

Although the unemployment fund is paid for by taxes levied on employers, a flood of claimants in recent years has depleted its balance, and Colorado sought millions in loans from the federal government to bridge the gap. Last year the state issued bonds totaling $640 million to buy back that federal debt, but employers are still on the hook for paying down the bonds and replenishing the fund.

While traditional employers report earnings to the state for purposes of calculating benefits in the event of layoffs, the federal government does not. Employees would rather have to provide their own documentation about what they earn to the state, which then cuts a check.

The extent to which federal employees would take advantage of unemployment benefits depends on the length of the shutdown and whether Congress is disposed toward awarding back pay to civil servants.

Virginia Democratic Rep. Jim Moran and Republican Rep. Frank Wolf introduced the Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act to do that late Monday, according to Federal News Radio.

If the shutdown lasts into next week and a federal worker cashes checks from the state, he would be responsible for paying back those benefits should back pay be granted.

In the second quarter alone, Colorado reported over $203,000 in known fraud and overpayment.

State unemployment compensation guidelines vary.

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