It’s real, but it’s not a windfall — and it may be unavoidable. The Washington Post points out one bizarre consequence of the federal shutdown — some federal workers will end up with extra cash because of it. The “bonus” isn’t high, and it’s not widespread, but some of those who applied for jobless benefits won’t be forced to return the money after getting their back pay. Oregon is among the states that have no clawback provisions for this scenario:
Thousands of federal employees across the country received jobless benefits during the government shutdown this month. Now that they’re getting back pay, many are being told to give it back. But at least some won’t have to.
In Oregon, fewer than 1,500 furloughed federal employees received unemployment insurance benefits during the 16-day government shutdown. That money is theirs to keep if they want, even if they collect back pay from the federal government, the state’s Employment Department wrote on its Web site.
“Oregon law does not permit UI benefits to be recovered in these circumstances,” the statement reads. “Oregon law provides that if a worker is entitled to receive UI benefits and then receives back pay, the worker is still entitled to the UI benefits. This applies to all workers regardless of whether they worked for the government.”
Oregon is a standout among states that are now weighing in on the issue. Several are in the process of notifying furloughed workers who got benefits that they need to repay the money. Idaho, for example, plans to send letters out Wednesday.
Four other states intend to get the money back, but only Washington has a plan to take it back involuntarily. They want federal agencies to impound part of the workers’ paychecks to reimburse the state for the payments, but that’s not yet settled.
Otherwise, the states can do little except to send letters demanding repayment, at least for now, and even that may take a while. States have to identify the workers and the money owed, the total of which varies widely from state to state. Washington is out $500,000, while Illinois spent $230,000, and Virginia only $65,000. Those figures might have some states balking at enforcement and collections, as the cost (especially in the public sector) might exceed the amounts they hope to recover.
Can Congress avoid this in a future shutdown? It’s difficult to see how. Most federal workers need some income to pay their bills, and the uncertain nature of shutdowns and their length means that applying for jobless benefits for an indefinite furlough is a necessity, just in case it goes far longer than anyone anticipates. The solution in this case may need to come from the states, but it would be moot if Congress could get back to responsible normal-order budgeting that produced balanced and rational spending plans.