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Furloughed federal employees file for unemployment

The number of furloughed federal employees seeking unemployment during the federal government shutdown jumped in late December and early January as the shutdown entered its third week.

Maryland is particularly susceptible to the effects of the federal government shutdown because of its proximity to Washington D.C. and the large number of federal workers who live here.

The shutdown affects about 800,000 workers, or about one-quarter of the U.S. government, including employees in the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, State and Treasury. The other 75 percent of the government is funded by measures that have previously passed, including the departments of Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Labor and Veterans Affairs.

The largest group of federal workers in Maryland are the 11,000 employed by the Social Security Administration, which is also not affected by the shutdown.

Who is applying for benefits

Many federal workers hoped the shutdown would be over by the end of the Christmas holiday, but that didn’t happen. The Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation reported 169 applications for unemployment benefits between Dec. 22 and Dec. 27. From Dec. 28 through Dec. 31, nearly 300 more Marylanders filed unemployment applications. By Jan. 2, an additional 170 filed for benefits.

In a shutdown, furloughed employees in non-emergency jobs are told not to show up for work and their paychecks are suspended. It takes an act of Congress to OK retroactive pay.

What you can get from unemployment benefits

Unemployment benefits range from $50 to $430 per week depending on how much your full-time job was paying. To be eligible, you must have been dismissed or furloughed and be available for full-time work. Unemployment is funded mostly by state and federal taxes paid by employers, so the benefits themselves are not affected by the shutdown.

However, the federal shutdown could have a direct effect on state finances through diminished use of services, especially from commuters who use MARC train commuter rail service. Officials say a prolonged shutdown will affect the train system’s income.

Benefits are typically given through a prepaid Visa credit card. Benefits end when the worker goes back to work, and if Congress OKs retroactive pay, the worker is required to pay back any benefits received.

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