Governors: Let states give unemployment to those working without pay

By David Eggert

The Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. — The Democratic governors of Michigan, New York and Washington have asked the Trump administration to let states offer unemployment benefits to federal employees who are working without pay during the partial government shutdown that began more than one month ago.

Govs. Gretchen Whitmer, Andrew Cuomo and Jay Inslee said in a joint statement Friday that their states are providing the benefits to furloughed workers. But federal regulations prevent those who are on the job without pay from eligibility.

The governors called on the U.S. Labor Department to immediately provide “clear, unambiguous” guidance on whether states have flexibility to waive the rules to help those working without pay — Transportation Security Administration officers, air traffic controllers, Coast Guard members and others.

If the flexibility does not exist, they said, the department should work with congressional leaders to change the law.

“Simply put, there is no rational justification to deny these employees the same short-term relief being offered to furloughed federal employees across the country,” the governors said.

They said they are “profoundly distressed” by the shutdown — which was in its 28th day Friday and now is in its 33rd day —saying it is “badly hurting” federal employees in their states and across the country.

Thousands of federal employees and their families are applying for unemployment to get by as the longest government shutdown in U.S. history drags on with no end in sight to the standoff over the Republican president’s demand for money to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Labor Department said federal employees not working during the shutdown can collect unemployment, while those who are on the job without pay cannot. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, also a Democrat, said last Thursday that his state will give benefits to people still on the job despite the guidance prohibiting it.

The Labor Department reports that the number of furloughed federal employees seeking unemployment jumped to more than 10,000 during the week that ended Jan. 5.

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