Federal civilian government employees caught up in this week's high-stakes shutdown, including the roughly 2,700 furloughed at Fort Benning, will be able to file for unemployment benefits.
But the impasse will have to last through next week before most, if not all, of those idled without pay would reach the financial point at which they could receive benefits capping out at $330 per week.
Sam Hall, communications director with the Georgia Department of Labor, said affected federal workers can submit an application for benefits at any time. But they have to report any earned income they have received during the week they are seeking assistance.
"The amount of money that they would have earned working Monday and a half day Tuesday, in many cases that's going to exceed the amount of their unemployment insurance benefit," he said. "Therefore they would not get a payment for that week."
Labor department workforce data show federal government employees in Muscogee County earned an average of $902 per week in the first quarter of this year. Those are the latest figures available.
The federal shutdown began on Tuesday, with employees being told to report to work for instructions on whether or not they would be furloughed. Many apparently worked a half day. Fort Benning has about 3,900 civilian workers, with the post public affairs office saying about 70 percent of those considered "non-essential" were sent home with no pay.
Nationwide, the number of civilian federal government employees off the job is estimated at about 800,000.
If and when they do seek unemployment assistance, the out-of-work staffers can do so online through the Georgia Department of Labor's website, said Hall.
"We're encouraging them to apply online. That's easier for them and it's easier for us to manage," he said. "But then they will have to go to the Columbus Career Center and produce a photo ID to prove who they are and that they are citizen. It would be helpful if they took their last pay stub with them."
The unemployment trust fund in Georgia now stands at about $219 million, Hall said. But it won't take a hit from issuing jobless checks to the furloughed people, he said, with the federal government reimbursing the state trust fund dollar for dollar.
"We do not expect this to have a major negative impact on our unemployment insurance trust fund," he said.
With the workers losing cash flow from their budgets, a couple of credit unions have offered to help out in the interim.
TIC Federal Credit Union said it is offering temporary short-term, low-interest loans to those who have their paychecks deposited directly with the financial institution.
"This short term loan has been developed to help you through this troubling time," TIC said.
Navy Federal Credit Union said its "sequestration and furlough assistance remains in place" for those impacted by the shutdown. That includes special lines of credit, helping customers with loan payments, faster approval of increased limits on credit cards, and low-rate personal loans.
Columbus State University President Tim Mescon also said military personnel using the GoArmyEd Tuition Assistance program -- which has been suspended during the shutdown -- will be allowed to register and attend class this semester without having to use their own money.
"Should tuition assistance not be forthcoming this semester, military personnel, who enrolled during this current situation will not be required to pay out of pocket for classes taken this semester," the university said.
Those with questions about filing for unemployment benefits can visit the Georgia Department of Labor's Columbus Career Center, 700 Veterans Parkway, or call 706-649-7423.
For more information via the labor department's website, including the prompt to submit a claim, go to www.dol.state.ga.us and click on "Federal Government Shutdown."
(c)2013 the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, Ga.)
Visit the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, Ga.) at www.ledger-enquirer.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
Original headline: Furloughed civilian government workers eligible for unemployment checks
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