State will expand unemployment benefits to federal employees working full-time for no pay


Gov. Jay Inslee announced today that Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD) is expanding unemployment benefits to federal workers who, since the partial shutdown began, were deemed “essential” and were directed to work full-time without pay. This includes TSA agents, Coast Guard personnel, border patrol agents, food safety inspectors, FBI agents, and many others.

Since the partial shutdown began, only those federal workers who were furloughed and not working were eligible to receive unemployment insurance benefits. Inslee said this is an inexcusable situation that state leaders should not accept.

Gov. Jay Inslee and Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine meet with businesses and organizations who are offering assistance to federal workers during the shutdown, Jan. 24, 2019. (Office of the Governor photo)

“There are nearly 16,000 Washingtonians who are about to lose a second paycheck because of this record-long federal shutdown,” Inslee said. “Thousands of those Washington-based federal workers are being told they must work anyway, and therefore have no option but to hope this shutdown ends. It is wholly unacceptable, and Washington state will not stand by while our public servants work day after day while struggling to make ends meet. We have got to prioritize people over politics and end this shutdown.

“It is unconscionable that the president is turning these public servants into his political pawns. We will take care of Washingtonians, even if the president won’t.”

If you are an impacted federal worker, you can file your claim now by going to the ESD website.

ESD Commissioner Suzi LeVine said their first preference would be an immediate end to the prolonged and painful shutdown, followed by federal protection for the workers.

“Absent movement on any of these options, we’re taking action to protect those workers who are forced to work with no paycheck, no safety net and no ability to find alternative work during this time,” LeVine said. “It’s the compassionate and responsible thing to do.”

Numerous businesses are also stepping in to provide financial relief to federal workers impacted by the shutdown. Inslee and LeVine hosted a roundtable Thursday with several business leaders who detailed their efforts to help struggling workers who have gone weeks without pay. The business leaders came from varied industries such as banking, telecom, utilities and health care.

“It’s impressive to see so many businesses and organizations stepping up to help in so many ways, big and small,” Inslee said. “Companies are deferring payments or waiving fees, providing no-interest loans and finding other creative ways to help workers stay afloat during this difficult time.”

Francine Artis said Tacoma Public Utilities is here to help.

“Tacoma Public Utilities remains committed to providing customers in need with multiple assistance options to help them pay their utility bills and make their homes more efficient,” said Artis, TPU’s Customer Solutions Manager. “The partial federal government shutdown is affecting many in our community, and TPU wants to assist affected customers during this difficult time. Customers seeking assistance with their bill can call 253–502–8600.”

Rod Hochman of Providence St. Joseph Health said the organization provides assistance and charity care in times of financial hardship. But that for affected federal workers, they are also offering a grace period to pay out-of-pocket medical costs and are suspending collection activities on outstanding balances.

“The situation is a painful reminder of how quickly a sudden loss of income can render someone vulnerable,” said Hochman, president and CEO of Providence St. Joseph Health. “We are also encouraging as many PSJH caregivers as possible to volunteer for service activities to help meet immediate needs for affected families, such as food banks and diaper drives. Together, we hope to offer some measure of relief in this time of need.”

Randy King, a former federal employee who worked for 15 years as deputy superintendent and superintendent of Mt. Rainier National Park, also participated in the roundtable. He said there’s no doubt access to unemployment benefits and support from businesses will help prevent many workers from experiencing incredibly difficult financial hardship.

Kent, a 29-year veteran of government service, said, “ A number of coworkers in my office have not reported to work, claiming financial hardship, and this would go a long way to easing their burden.”

Inslee’s office hosts a resource page for impacted federal workers. The page includes information about unemployment benefits, as well as the support options offered by the companies he and LeVine met with today.

The governor also released an updated document detailing some of the shutdown’s most significant impacts to Washington state programs and services. You can find the list here.

Gov. Jay Inslee hears from business and organizations who are helping federal workers during the shutdown, Jan. 24, 2019. (Office of the Governor photo)