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The Vast Majority Of Mass. Federal Workers Affected By Shutdown Haven't Filed For Unemployment

A sign is posted on a fence near an entrance to the Bunker Hill Monument Dec. 24 in Boston. The historic site, erected to commemorate the Revolutionary War Battle of Bunker Hill, and run by the National Park Service, was closed due to a partial federal government shutdown. (Steven Senne/AP)
A sign is posted on a fence near an entrance to the Bunker Hill Monument Dec. 24 in Boston. The historic site, erected to commemorate the Revolutionary War Battle of Bunker Hill, and run by the National Park Service, was closed due to a partial federal government shutdown. (Steven Senne/AP)

Thousands of federal government employees in Massachusetts are not receiving pay as a result of the partial federal government shutdown.

And despite not knowing when their next paycheck might arrive, only about 10 percent of the government workers in the state who are affected by the shutdown have requested unemployment benefits.

Roughly 8,000 federal workers in the state are now furloughed or working without pay. Massachusetts Office of Labor and Workforce Development data show 794 federal workers — nearly 10 percent of the state's affected workforce — have filed initial claims for unemployment benefits since the federal shutdown began in December.

So, why aren't more federal workers in Massachusetts seeking to obtain the unemployment benefits for which they qualify?

A union leader whose organization represents some federal workers in Massachusetts has a few ideas. Gabriel Pedreira is the legislative and political organizer for the northeast district of the American Federation of Government Employees. He says a major reason why some workers don't seek benefits during a shutdown is that it represents a loan of sorts.

"In past government shutdowns, once the government reopens and people have received unemployment benefits, they're required by law to pay those benefits back once they receive back pay for time lost," Pedreira said.

A state labor official confirms that if Congress approves retroactive pay for the period during which federal workers have been furloughed, those employees would be responsible for repaying the unemployment benefits.

Pedreira added that some federal workers may not be aware that they are eligible to receive unemployment. He also said other workers who are still required to report to work during the shutdown, albeit without pay, are too busy to file claims.

"Because they're considered essential by the federal government, you have people at TSA for example at Logan Airport who are reporting to work every day and they work long hours," Pedreira said. "With this shutdown the reality is ... they might not have the time to even go online and file for unemployment because their concern right now is doing their job."

Not all federal workers in Massachusetts are affected by the shutdown. There are more than 45,000 federal government employees in the state, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance.

As the shutdown drags on, 800,000 federal employees across the U.S. are furloughed or working without pay.

Related:

Jonathan Cain Twitter Senior Supervising Producer, All Things Considered
Jonathan Cain produces WBUR's All Things Considered and afternoon newscasts. He came to WBUR after working for 14 years as an Emmy Award-winning television news producer at NECN in Newton and WTVR in Richmond, Virginia.

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