WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal workers who are furloughed because of the government shutdown began filing for unemployment benefits almost immediately this week, uncertain about when they would be able to return to work.
Employment agencies in the District of Columbia and Maryland said Wednesday that they have already seen an increase in online applications for benefits. Virginia is requiring federal workers to fill out a special paper application to mail to Richmond.
Workers must be out of work for at least a week before they are eligible to receive benefits in D.C. and Virginia. There is no waiting period to receive benefits in Maryland.
While many federal workers live in Maryland and Virginia, unemployment claims should be filed where people work. So the District of Columbia could be particularly hard hit by claims if the federal shutdown persists.
In response to the increased demand, the D.C. Department of Employment Services is requiring all initial claims for unemployment to be filed online, said spokeswoman Najla Haywood. The agency said it is processing claims, but there might be delays for federal workers in order to verify their income and employment status while their offices are closed.
"We were prepared for this," Haywood said. "We're ready for the increase in inquiries."
The federal government pays into a fund for unemployment insurance just as other employers do.
"Currently the fund is fully solvent," Haywood said. "However, the duration of the shutdown will have an impact over time."
Many federal workers are also based in suburban Maryland and throughout Virginia.
Maryland's Department of Labor received 4,000 unemployment claims from federal workers Tuesday - more than the state usually receives all year from federal workers, said spokeswoman Maureen O'Connor. Another 2,000 applications arrived Wednesday from federal workers.
In Virginia, all federal workers will have to submit paper applications because the Virginia Employment Commission can't access federal workers' wage information the same way as other employers, said spokeswoman Joyce Fogg. But workers employed by federal contractors can apply online.
Eligibility for unemployment benefits during a temporary layoff or furlough depends on the worker's earnings.
"If they receive unemployment benefits and are then paid retroactively, they would have to pay back what they received in unemployment benefits," Fogg said.