Government Shutdown Payday

People protest the partial government shutdown in downtown Denver on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. Federal workers are scaling back spending, canceling trips, applying for unemployment benefits, seeking second jobs and taking out loans to stay afloat. 

Colorado has paid out more than $100,000 in unemployment benefits to federal workers left without a paycheck by the partial U.S. government shutdown, a state official said Friday.

As the shutdown approached the end of its fourth week, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment told Colorado Politics that slightly more than 10 percent of the state's eligible federal workers and contractors have filed unemployment claims, bringing the total filed by Friday afternoon to more than 2,400.

That number could climb sharply in coming weeks after a Friday announcement that Gov. Jared Polis had issued an emergency rule expanding unemployment eligibility to an additional 8,000 federal workers who have been working without pay since the shutdown began on Dec. 22.

Prior to the new rule taking effect, only furloughed federal workers and contractors have been able to file jobless claims in Colorado, while those required to work through the shutdown couldn't. 

Federal workers affected by the shutdown — already the longest in the nation's history — have accounted for about 20 percent of the state's total jobless claims this month, said Cher Haavind, the state labor department's director of government and public relations.

"As of today," she said late Friday, "about 2,400 have filed for unemployment with us, and the number of claims are growing by between 100 and 200 each day."

Haavind said that federal contractors who have been put out of work by the shutdown account for 13 percent of those claims. The remainder are federal employees.

According to data compiled by the state labor department, an estimated 23,000 of Colorado's 53,200 federal workers are missing paychecks or otherwise affected by the partial shutdown, Haavind said — a higher total than the estimates that have appeared in some press reports.

Of those, around 15,000 have been furloughed by the federal government, while roughly 8,000 are deemed "essential" — because their jobs "protect life and property" — and have been required to work without pay.

Negotiations between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats have been at a standstill over his demand for $5.7 billion in funding for a border wall with Mexico.

Democrats have given thumbs down to the number and said they won't discuss a compromise until the government reopens, a condition most Republicans reject.

Haavind said the labor department estimates its call center has received 1,400 calls related to the federal shutdown during what is typically one of the busiest times of year for jobless claims.

The state tells unemployed workers it could take as long as four to six weeks to process claims, Haavind said. But since the labor department on Friday had already paid out more than $100,000 in benefits to workers affected by the four-week-old shutdown, she added, "We are getting benefits to folks faster than that."

Federal employees who qualify for state unemployment benefits during the shutdown will have to pay the money back after they've returned to work and received retroactive pay, state officials said. 

The shutdown affects more than 800,000 federal employees and contractors nationwide, including those who work at nine Cabinet-level departments and numerous agencies.

Among those facing impacts are workers at the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Treasury, Homeland Security, Interior, State, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development.

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