Unemployed In Washington State? The Government Shutdown May Affect You

Oct 1, 2013

People who receive unemployment benefits in the state of Washington might be affected by the federal government’s shutdown.

The state’s Employment Security Department processes unemployment claims, and its staff is largely paid by federal dollars.

On Tuesday, the department mailed temporary layoff notices to roughly 1,700 staff members.

According to Communications Director Sheryl Hutchison, the agency has enough money to keep running through the week, but it’s not clear what will happen if the shutdown continues past Friday.

That puts the 80,000-90,000 people who receive unemployment checks from the state in limbo.

“People across the state rely heavily on these benefits, in some cases they have been on them for quite some time because of the situation with the economy, so we absolutely understand the pain this is causing,” said Hutchison.

It costs the department about $250,000 a week in employee salaries to process unemployment claims, according to Hutchison. That doesn’t include overhead.

According to David Postman, spokesman for Governor Jay Inslee, the state will do everything it can to make up for those lost federal dollars. But “there is no big pot of money in state government that can cover these things in the long term,” he said.

During past government shutdowns, the state has stepped in to cover costs, and was later reimbursed by the federal government. 

According to Postman, the state has no assurances from Congress that the federal government will repay the states.

The one piece of good news is that the pool of money used to pay out unemployment benefits is not affected. It's in a trust fund and will continue to available during the the government shutdown.

If you are receiving unemployment benefits, the Employment Security Department recommends that you continue to monitor the department’s website for updates.