January is the “busy season” for unemployment offices in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, mostly because of employers parting ways with seasonal workers.
But this year, the partial federal government shutdown has made the busy season even busier.
More than 3,100 federal workers have applied for benefits through Pennsylvania’s Office of Unemployment Compensation since the shutdown started on Dec. 22, including nearly 800 from Jan. 10 through Wednesday, according to state officials. As of Thursday, the 27th day of the shutdown, more than 1,000 federal employees in New Jersey have filed for unemployment benefits.
The details behind each claim might be different, but it’s likely the surge of new applications stems from the more than 800,000 federal workers nationwide who did not get a paycheck last week, because they are either on unpaid leave or working even though Congress has not funded their agencies.
It was the first missed paycheck in what now has become the longest shutdown in the country’s history, sparked by President Donald Trump’s request for more than $5 billion to pay for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and Democrats' refusal to fund it.
In Pennsylvania, more than 450 federal employees filed unemployment claims in the last week of 2018, almost 10 times as many as the 48 who filed in the same week the previous year, according to state officials. In Philadelphia, more than 1,000 federal employees have applied for unemployment benefits during the shutdown, and 446 have filed across Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties.
Federal workers' claims take longer to process than other types, because unlike other employers, federal agencies are not required to report wages to the state every quarter, said Susan Dickinson, director of Pennsylvania’s Office of Unemployment Compensation Benefits Policy. So state workers have to reach out to the human resources offices of federal agencies, which may be operating with fewer staff.
To receive unemployment benefits faster, the state recommends federal workers submit pay stubs with their applications.
After the shutdown ends and federal workers receive their back pay — a step already approved by Congress — the states will require them to repay the compensation they received.