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Wednesday, September 18, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  WA Government

Federal workers could get unemployment payments during a shutdown

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 6, 2019, 9:34 p.m.

With the prospect of another federal shutdown slightly more than a week away, the state Senate voted Wednesday to provide unemployment benefits to federal workers required to stay on the job without pay.

During the last shutdown, about half the employees for the federal agencies involved were declared essential and continued to work without pay. Under federal rules, they weren’t eligible for unemployment benefits, although the workers who were furloughed were.

Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, the sponsor of the bill, said many of those people work as air traffic controllers and for the Transportation Security Administration and federal courts.

“These workers keep us safe. They keep us healthy,” Keiser said.

When a shutdown is over and Congress approves back pay, the state would be reimbursed for those payments.

Congress is working on legislation to make those essential workers eligible for state unemployment benefits, but Washington should move ahead with its own legislation, as some other states have, Keiser said.

“We are possibly going to have another shutdown in the next few weeks,” she said, urging senators to “put politics aside.”

Some Republican lawmakers urged a go-slow approach and waiting for Congress to act.

“We have a genuine legal issue with the bill,” said Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia. “We need to line up with federal law.”

Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, argued that legislators take an oath to uphold federal law and “this is out of compliance, so it’s against the laws of the United States.”

But Keiser insisted if a shutdown happens before federal law changes, the state will work with the federal government. “Sometimes we just have to do what is right,” she said.

The Senate sent the bill to the House on a bipartisan 38-9 vote.

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