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Thousands of furloughed federal workers who received unemployment checks during the 16-day shutdown will have to begin paying the government back.
Roughly 50,000 employees filed for unemployment in and around Washington, D.C., while the government was closed. Nearly 34,000 workers filed claims within the shutdown’s first weekOver 16,000 government workers sought unemployment over the duration of the shutdown in the nation’s capital, according to Najla A. Haywood, public information officer for the District of Columbia’s Department of Employment Services (DOES).
“DOES dispersed payment for 1,700 of these claims via debit card or direct deposit,” Haywood said. “Claimants are currently receiving notification from the DOES advising them on how they can pay back these benefits.”
Haywood said workers who received unemployment have 60 days to reimburse the government. In some cases, the agency can reverse payments if the claimant has not yet accessed the funds, which were disbursed via direct deposit or debit card.
Most of the 1,700 recipients received the maximum weekly benefit amount of $359, Haywood said.
“Those who have hardships must communicate them to DOES as early as possible and throughout the restitution agreement period in order to receive additional time to repay,” Haywood said.
“However, failure to adhere to restitution agreements could result in future garnishment of wages as DOES is legally required to recover these funds,” she said.
Maureen O’Connor, spokesperson for the Maryland Division of Unemployment Insurance, said the state is currently in the process of issuing notices for repayments. Over 20,000 federal claims were filed, though it is not yet clear how many checks went out.
“Federal employees affected by the shutdown will be receiving back pay,” the department said in a notice on its website. “To prevent an overpayment of unemployment insurance benefits, do not file a weekly claim certification for any weeks during the shutdown. If you have already been paid benefits during a period for which you received or will receive back pay, you will be required to repay those benefits.”
Pennsylvania will not have to issue repayments for the 7,600 federal workers who filed for unemployment, because no checks went out.
“None of the claims were paid due to the [Unemployment Compensation] law’s requirement that there is a one week waiting period and then a bi-weekly filing, so Pennsylvania has no overpayments due,” said Sara J. Goulet, press secretary
for the Department of Labor and Industry.
Similarly, only a small fraction of the 6,500 furloughed workers who applied for unemployment in Northern Virginia likely received payment due to waiting periods, according to Joyce Fogg, a spokesperson for the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) office in Alexandria.
Those that did collect unemployment were paid through direct deposit or debit card, a maximum of $378 each week of the shutdown.
“They’ll have to pay it back because they’re getting paid retroactively by the government,” Fogg said.
While there is no deadline for federal workers to make repayments, Fogg said the VEC is determined to collect any funds that went out.
“There’s no set deadline, but it wouldn’t be that much money. It was only 7 or 8 work days,” she said. “But eventually they need to pay it back.”
“We would go to court if we had to,” Fogg said.