WENATCHEE — Federal employees who have been working without pay since the partial government shutdown Dec. 22 can now apply for unemployment benefits.
That includes TSA agents screening passengers and bags at Pangborn Memorial Airport. Other “essential” employees who have been working, but not being paid, include border patrol agents, food safety inspectors and FBI agents.
Statistics are not yet available on the exact number of federal employees in Chelan and Douglas counties who have not been paid in the past month. The total number of federal employees, including those who were not part of the shutdown, in the two-county area was listed at 850 in 2017.
Of those, 596 were in Chelan County and 254 in Douglas County, according to statistics provided by Don Meseck, regional economics for the state Employment Security Department.
Chelan County’s federal workers accounted for 1.4 percent of the workforce in 2017. In Douglas County, it accounted for 2 percent of the jobs in 2017.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday the emergency rule allowing the expansion of the benefits.
The benefits initially were available only to federal workers who were furloughed and not working.
“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.“
His office provided a resource page for federal workers, which includes information about benefits and support options (https://wwrld.us/2TeK515). He also released a list of some of the most significant impacts to to state programs (https://wwrld.us/2RNfdIE).
Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine said the first preference is to end the “prolonged and painful” shutdown, followed by federal protection for 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.”
Community members and business in Chelan and Douglas counties have stepped up to help federal workers impacted by the shutdown, everything from payday loans to $20 gift cards for food.
The emergency rule states federal employees will not be required to register for work or look for other work while receiving the benefits and it makes clear the benefits received will have to be repaid if the federal employee receive back pay.