Governors: Let states give unemployment to federal workers

LANSING, Mich. -- The Democratic governors of  Washington, New York and Michigan on Friday 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 nearly a month ago.

Govs. Gretchen Whitmer, Andrew Cuomo and Jay Inslee said in a joint statement 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 28-day shutdown, which 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 says 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 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. About 400 of them live in Michigan, said Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown. She said about 6,900 federal employees in Michigan are impacted by the partial shutdown, "many of whom are working without pay and could be considered if there were a change to the guidance/rule."

About 3,000 federal workers in New York have applied for unemployment benefits, according to Cuomo's office.

Whitmer separately wrote a letter to Labor Secretary Alex Acosta asking for a waiver to the unemployment insurance eligibility rules.

"These workers especially need our help to ensure they can survive the shutdown without losing their homes or their ability to pay for necessities," she wrote.

Read the full statement below:

"As governors representing tens of thousands of people who have now been furloughed or working without pay for 28 days, we are profoundly distressed by the ongoing government shutdown and the total lack of progress toward reaching a resolution. We urge President Trump and Senate Republicans to immediately reopen the government for the hard-working federal employees in our states and across the country, a third of whom are veterans, who are badly hurting.

"Each of us has taken active measures permitted by law to alleviate the pain of the partial government shutdown, including providing unemployment benefits to furloughed federal workers and their families in our states who have missed paychecks and are now facing a very real threat of missing payments on their rent, mortgages, credit cards, phone bills and car loans. Unfortunately, current federal regulations are preventing us from providing the same assistance to federal employees who are continuing to work full-time, despite not being paid for their work. This disparity is patently unfair and wrong. For the hundreds of thousands of federal workers who remain on their jobs — including Coast Guard members, TSA agents, air traffic controllers, food safety inspectors, CBP agents, and more — our states’ hands are tied from providing this much-needed relief.

"We call on the U.S. Department of Labor to immediately provide clear, unambiguous guidance on whether flexibility is available to states to waive these rules and offer unemployment benefits to federal employees who are excepted from the furlough. If such flexibility does not exist, we urge the department to work expeditiously with congressional leaders on a change to the statute to allow our states the ability to offer this critical assistance to workers and their families. 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.

"Ultimately, what states need most is an end to this harmful and unnecessary shutdown. It is now causing massive disruption and widespread pain to families and communities across the country — endangering our food supply, natural resources, the public safety, and our states’ economies. We urge President Trump and the Senate Republicans to end this impasse now and reopen the government for all Americans."

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