Government Shutdown: Good news, bad news

Michelle Singletary
Columnist October 3, 2013

Here’s a sort of good news/bad news financial tip for federal workers affected by the federal government shutdown.

On the one hand, many are eligible to file for unemployment benefits. But on the other hand, they will be required to pay the money back if Congress approves retroactive pay, reports Annalyn Kurtz of CNN Money.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.” View Archive

“Non-essential” workers who were told to stay home are eligible to apply for unemployment benefits because the shutdown is considered a temporary layoff. Kurtz reports that states with large numbers of federal employees, such as Maryland and Virginia, have posted notices telling folks that if they receive back pay from their agency to cover the furlough period, they must repay any unemployment benefits. Eligibility requirements vary by state, but if the if the shutdown lasts at least a week, most furloughed employees will be eligible for benefits in the states where they work, says Kurtz.

So, if you’re a government worker you may be wondering whether you should collect unemployment.

“If someone has rent due, it’s better to get unemployment and pay it back later if you need to,” David Ricksecker, an attorney with Woodley & McGillivary told Kurtz. “Congress is so far apart on everything that I don’t see them voluntarily going back and paying these employees, but I could be wrong.”

The shutdown has affected more than 800,000 federal government employees. Employees designated as essential are not eligible for unemployment benefits.

The U.S. Department of Labor has issued a fact sheet for federal employees to review if they’re considering applying for unemployment benefits.

The Washington Posts has also posted a FAQ of ways the shutdown will affect federal workers.

Some Lawmakers Refuse Their Pay

In financial solidarity with federal workers who won’t be paid, about 100 lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, have said that they plan to donate or refuse to take their pay, reports The Post’s Ed O’Keefe.

The jobs of the members of Congress and the president are authorized by the U.S. Constitution and are paid with mandatory funds, not discretionary spending dependent on annual appropriations.

As O’Keefe reports, Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.) wrote on his Facebook page: “Those who make the laws should have to live by those laws.” Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) said in a statement “If Congress can’t do its job and put the American people first, then they certainly shouldn’t get paid during a crisis that they are causing.

Color of Money Question of the Week

What do you think of the lawmakers refusing to take their paychecks during the shutdown? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com and put “Some Lawmakers Refuse their Pay” in the subject line and include your full name, city and state.

The Fallout From the Shutdown

For the first time in 17 years, the federal government has shut down, leaving thousands of employees furloughed.

Here are the latest headlines:

--Government Shutdown Hits Research, Teaching Hospitals, Residency Programs

--Shutdown may force me into bankruptcy: Federal worker

--Grand Canyon wedding canceled because of potential government shutdown

-- Government shutdown threatens couple’s wedding by the Jefferson Memorial

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The Looming Government Shutdown

For last week’s Color of Money Question, I asked: “Even if the federal shutdown is avoided, how do you feel about the use of this strategy to protest the Affordable Care Act?”

Well, it wasn’t avoided. It’s done. Nonetheless, here are some responses about how it came to this:

“This should really signal to the American people that many politicians do not care about our well-being,” wrote Jessica Ferrill of Beckley, W.V. “Republicans going as far as holding jobs ‘hostage’ should never be a tactic to get what they want, especially when Obamacare would benefit far more people than it would ever hurt.”

Edwin J Ballantyne Jr. of Springfield, Mo., wrote: “When one continues to do the same thing expecting a favorable result and that action constantly fails, then that action is stupid. What is the old saying? Cut your nose off to spite your face!”

“Short and sweet, if the only means of getting real focus on this horrible Obamacare is to shut down the government, then shut it down,” wrote Lauren Leggett of Fort Washington, Md. “I will likely not get paid, but I want Obamacare defunded.”

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071, or michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to www.postbusiness.com.

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