Oregon Sees Huge Jump In Federal Workers Seeking Unemployment

By Crystal Ligori (OPB) and Kate Davidson (OPB)
Jan. 18, 2019 1:17 a.m.

More than 2,700 federal workers living in Oregon have filed for unemployment benefits through the state since the partial government shutdown began.


State officials don’t know how many of them are directly impacted by the government shutdown, now the longest in U.S. history, but here’s some perspective: Last year at this time only 561 federal workers in Oregon filed for unemployment.

OPB All Things Considered host Kate Davidson spoke with David Gerstenfeld, director of Oregon's Unemployment Insurance Division, about the impact this is having.

Here are some highlights:

Who pays the bills?

Although these unemployment benefits are administered by the state, money to pay them comes from the federal government.

“The federal government reimburses the employment department dollar for dollar for all of the benefits we pay federal workers,” Gerstenfeld said.


Who is eligible?

Not everyone. Gerstenfeld says Oregon has about 9,600 people who work for federal agencies impacted by the shutdown. So the number filing for unemployment benefits could grow … a lot.

But not all federal workers qualify. Those deemed important enough to work without pay are not eligible.

“The big issue we’re seeing is federal workers who are required to work but aren’t being paid cannot receive these benefits,” he said. “Federal and state law … says that if you are working full time, even if you’re not being paid, you’re not considered unemployed.”

The U.S. Labor Department just reaffirmed that policy to state unemployment administrators.

How much help is unemployment?

“How much they receive in benefits depends on how much they were earning before – between $146 and $624 per week,” Gerstenfeld said. “Typically that works out to about 45 to 50 percent of a replacement. It’s certainly not a full replacement for their paycheck.”

Could this hurt federal workers later?

Yes. Gerstenfeld says Oregon won’t require federal employees who get unemployment checks now to pay back the money if the government later reimburses for the time they weren’t paid.

But if they need to file for unemployment benefits again within the next five years, their new benefits will first go to reimburse Oregon for unemployment checks they receive during this shutdown.