Federal workers who are counting on drawing unemployment benefits if they are furloughed starting next month may be in for an unhappy jolt. Each individual will have to run through a maze of state and federal rules before collecting a dime, if anything.

Ironically, all the money that workers would be paid in unemployment benefits because they are furloughed would come from the agency that furloughed them in the first place -- to save salaries.

Chances are that workers in Grade 10 and above would not get any unemployment benefits unless they are furloughed four days a week. Most agency furlough plans call for one or two days every two weeks. Some are projecting more furlough days. But almost none has plans to furlough workers more than three days a week.

To further confuse things, unemployment payments are based on the rules of the state where your "official duty station" is situated. That's not necessarily where you live or even where you work.

You could live in Maryland, work in Virginia but come under the District's unemployment rules. Or the other way round. Confused? Wait. It gets worse.

Benefits are determined on a case-by-case, state-by-state basis. There is no rule of thumb for everyone.

Most agencies say they must begin furloughs unless Congress and the White House pass a budget by Oct. 1. Many think the crisis will pass and that there will not be any furloughs. If there are, most people think they will last only a few days. But individuals must find out for themselves about unemployment benefits, which depend on such things as:

How many days you are furloughed.

Eligibility rules in the state that is your official duty station. Many people don't know theirs. It is shown on an individual's Standard Form 50. Regardless of where you live, work or apply for benefits, they are determined by your official duty station state.

The District's maximum benefit is $293 per week; Maryland's is $205 and Virginia's is $176 per week. But only high-salaried people who lose all income get the maximums. Typically, furloughed workers get less or nothing.

In most cases, people furloughed one day per week would not qualify for benefits locally.

Those furloughed two or three days per week may get some benefit if they are in Grades 1 through 9. Those in Grade 10 or higher would probably have to be furloughed four days a week to qualify for benefits because the salary they drew (even on furlough) would exceed the minimum unemployment benefits.

Furlough Assistance

Tomorrow at noon on WNTR radio (1050 AM), Marge Marks, chief of the Office of Personnel Management's employee relations division, will talk about what furloughs do to pay, leave, insurance, retirement and other benefits.

On Wednesday, Marks speaks at a furlough job fair and luncheon at Blackie's House of Beef. The lunch is sponsored by the Classification and Compensation Society. Representatives of temporary agencies will talk about finding jobs for furloughed federal workers. For reservations, call 296-1600.