Vermont’s Republican governor and Democratically-controlled Legislature have managed to do what elected officials in Washington, D.C., so far have not: provide financial relief to the federal workers forced to work without pay during the partial government shutdown.
In a memorandum issued Monday, and made public Tuesday, Gov. Phil Scott directed the Vermont Department of Labor to offer unemployment benefits to all federal workers affected by the shutdown.
The directive, issued by Scott after conferring with legislative leadership in the House and Senate, will ensure that “essential” and “excepted” federal employees will be treated in the same way as their “furloughed” counterparts.
Furloughed federal workers — employees who both aren’t going to work and aren’t getting paid — are already eligible for unemployment benefits. But essential employees forced to work without pay have until now been ineligible for unemployment, by virtue of their active employment status.
In a written release, Vermont Commissioner of Labor Lindsay Kurrle said:
“The core principle of unemployment insurance is to remedy temporary economic hardship created by an unanticipated loss of income. There are Vermonters who have been showing up to work every day, but not getting a paycheck, for more than a month. There is no end in sight for federal shutdown and the governor and legislators have asked us to help these individuals feed their families, pay their bills, and put gas in their cars.”
Kurrle said in an interview Tuesday that it's been difficult to determine precisely how many federal employees in Vermont have been affected by the shutdown, but said the number is likely on the order of 1,500.
She said approximately 100 federal workers have already applied for and are receiving unemployment benefits as a result of the shutdown.
In his memo to the Department of Labor, Scott said the new directive was "a matter of commonsense and compassion." It also likely won't come at any lasting cost to the state.
All federal workers, including those who have been furloughed, are set to get back pay once the federal shutdown ends. Once that back pay is issued, all federal employees who received unemployment benefits during the shutdown will be required to repay that money to the state.
The unemployment directive will take effect immediately, according to Scott’s memo, but may require emergency rulemaking to clarify state law.
This story was originally published by Vermont Public Radio.
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