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Labor Department: No double dipping for furloughed feds

Federal workers who were furloughed during the government shutdown will not be allowed to collect unemployment benefits in addition to the back pay they are due under the deal that ended the temporary closure.

The Labor Department said last week that all states must recoup any unemployment payments that went to federal employees forced off the job during the 16-day lapse in operational funding.

Federal employees protest the sequester outside the Department of Labor on March 20. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg). Federal employees protest the sequester outside the Department of Labor on March 20. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg).

More than 800,000 federal workers were furloughed at the start of the shutdown, although that number dropped by roughly half after the Pentagon ordered most of its civilian personnel back to work partway through the closure.

Republicans, including House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), issued a letter this month to the Obama administration asking that employees not be allowed to receive unemployment benefits on top of their retroactive furlough compensation.

Concerns about “double dipping” arose from ambiguity in an earlier Labor Department document that suggested some states wouldn’t necessarily have to recoup unemployment payments from federal workers who receive back pay. On a Q&A page, the agency said states would “generally require” repayment.

The Oregon Employment Department, which administers unemployment benefits for the state of Oregon, initially said its administrative rules prevented the agency from recouping payments from furloughed federal workers who receive retroactive compensation.

The Labor Department clarified its guidelines last Thursday, saying federal employees furloughed during the shutdown do not meet the definition of “unemployed” and are therefore not eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.

“States must now take appropriate action to address the return of unemployment benefits already distributed,” said Labor spokesman Jason Kuruvilla.

Oregon has subsequently changed its policy and has advised those who applied for payments to cancel their claims or return the money once they receive notification.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook, or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

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