The Office of Personnel Management last month updated its guidance on how federal employees furloughed during a government shutdown can file for unemployment compensation. The guidance includes a fact sheet and some frequently asked questions that are provided below.
OPM Fact Sheet on Unemployment Compensation During Government Shutdown
In the event of a Federal government shutdown, Federal employees may be eligible for Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE). The UCFE program is administered by state unemployment insurance (UI) agencies acting as agents of the Federal government. The program is operated under the same terms and conditions that apply to regular state UI. In general, the law of the state in which an individual’s official duty station in Federal civilian service is located will be the state law under which an individual’s eligibility for benefits is determined.
What is a shut-down?
Every year Congress appropriates funds for Federal Agencies to operate in each fiscal year. In the absence of either a signed appropriations or a Continuing Resolution, Federal Agencies must “shut-down” (that is, cease normal spending).
Which federal employees are affected?
When there is a “shut-down” not all government operations cease. Expectations generally provide for continuation of activities involving national defense, law enforcement, and other activities directly involved with the protection of life and property. In addition, employees not paid from appropriated funds, and those “excepted” to administer shut-down operations, will continue to work.
During a government shut-down, employees who are not required to work under one of the exceptions above may not even volunteer their services. Employees not required to work are “furloughed,” that is, placed in a non-pay, non-duty status, until the shut-down ends.
Will “excepted” employees get paid?
Employees designated “excepted” who continue to work during the shut-down will almost certainly be paid for this period. However, this requires specific Congressional approval and that has occurred in the past.
Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?
State UI laws regarding eligibility vary. You may apply on or after the first day you are furloughed. The state where you file your claim will determine your eligibility. In general, furloughed employees should be eligible as long as all other state eligibility factors are met.
How do I file an unemployment claim?
You need to contact the state where you worked to file a claim. To find contact information for your state, please visit the following website: http://www.servicelocator.org/. Employees may be asked to provide proof of wages such as an earnings and leave statement, or Form SF-50 and may also be asked to provide a Form SF-8.
What is the weekly amount of UCFE benefits paid, and how long do benefits last?
Most states pay a maximum of 26 weeks of regular benefits; the maximum weekly benefit amount of UCFE is based on the state law; the amounts will vary.
How soon will benefits begin to be paid?
Some states require individuals to serve a waiting week, which means that the first week after a claim is filed is an unpaid week. In general, most states will issue payments to eligible individuals within 14-21 days after the claim is filed.
What will happen if Federal employees are paid for time during the shutdown period?
Should an appropriation or continuing resolution occur that retroactively provides for the payment of salary, state and Federal UI laws governing benefit overpayments will need to be applied to those weeks in which benefits were paid.
To download the fact sheet from OPM’s website, click here (1-page PDF).
OPM Unemployment (UI) Questions and Answers
Note: The responses below provide general information. To obtain State UI specific information, please contact the State UI agency directly or review the UI requirements on the State website (go to https://www.careeronestop.org/LocalHelp/service-locator.aspx and enter the State where you collected your UI benefits).
Retroactive Payment of Wages
Question: Are Federal employees required to repay the unemployment benefits received when/if wages are paid retroactively for the time that they were not working during the Government shutdown?
Answer: In most States, including the District of Columbia, employees who receive unemployment benefits and also later receive a retroactive payment from their employer for the same time period, will be required to repay the UI benefits received.
The State UI agency determines whether or not an overpayment exists and, generally, the recovery of the overpayment is a matter for State action under its law; however, some State UI laws require the employer to recover such overpayment.
Question: Can an employee’s wages be garnished if there is an overpayment of benefits?
Answer: Yes, if the State law has provisions for wage garnishments. However, employees will be given the opportunity to voluntarily repay the overpayment first before the State proceeds with any garnishments.
Question: If I am overpaid benefits, will I be required to repay the entire amount all at once?
Answer: It depends on the State requirements; most States will allow an individual to set up a repayment agreement to satisfy the overpayment.
Cancellation of UI Claim
Question: Is it possible to cancel my UI claim if the Government shutdown ends?
Answer: It depends on the State UI law and the status of your claim. Most States will not allow cancellation of a UI claim if the (weekly/bi-weekly) continued claim certification was made and/or any benefit payment(s) were issued.
Question: I have not yet received any UI payments; how can I find out the status of my claim? Answer: You will need to contact the State UI agency where you filed your claim.
To download the question and answers from OPM’s website, click here (1-page PDF).
Other Important Unemployment Insurance Resources for Federal Agencies and Employees
OPM’s furlough guidance section on its website also provided the following links regarding unemployment insurance information for federal workers:
- Quick Reference Table of State Unemployment Insurance Laws
- Map of State Unemployment Insurance Websites
- Federal Identification Code (FIC) Chart (December 3, 2018) (PDF file)