I'm a federal employee, and I've been furloughed during the government shutdown. Can I apply for unemployment benefits while I'm furloughed? What happens to my health insurance and other benefits while I'm waiting for my paycheck to start up again?
Yes, you can apply for unemployment benefits while you're furloughed. The Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees program is created specifically for federal workers but is administered by state unemployment agencies. You apply through the unemployment agency of the state where you work, not where you live, and the benefits vary by state. For contact information for each state's unemployment insurance agency, see this map. The D.C. Department of Employment Services has helpful information for furloughed federal employees whose offices are in Washington, D.C., plus links to the unemployment insurance programs in other states where many federal workers are employed.
You can generally apply for unemployment benefits as soon as you are furloughed, although there may be a waiting period before your benefits begin (one week in D.C., for example). If you end up getting paid retroactively after the shutdown is over, you'll have to pay back your unemployment benefits. See the Department of Labor's fact sheet for more information about unemployment benefits for federal employees.
Federal contractors who are not being paid because of the shutdown can also file for unemployment benefits, but they generally file a different application than the special claim form for federal employees. Contact your state unemployment agency for more information.
Your federal employee benefits will generally continue uninterrupted during the furlough, but there may be complications if your premiums are deducted from your salary and the government is shut down for several weeks. In most cases, extra premiums will be taken out of your paychecks after you start getting paid again, but some programs will start billing you directly.
Here are the rules for key employee benefits programs for furloughed federal workers:
Federal Employees Health Benefits
Health benefits will continue during the shutdown, but the employee's share of the premiums will accumulate and be withheld from your paycheck when your pay starts back up.
Health Care Flexible-Spending Account
Eligible health care expenses will not be reimbursed until the employee's pay starts back up. Your payroll deductions will be recalculated when you start getting paid again so you'll end up contributing the amount you originally elected by the end of the year.
Dependent-Care Flexible-Spending Account
Eligible dependent-care expenses may still be reimbursed while you are furloughed, up to the current balance in your dependent-care account.
Federal Long-Term-Care Insurance Program
Your coverage will continue during the shutdown, but your premiums won't be paid by payroll deduction while you are furloughed. You don't need to do anything right away, but if the insurer doesn't receive premiums from you for three consecutive pay periods, it may start billing you directly. You must pay these bills to keep the coverage. (When you start getting paid again, if you haven't made any other payments, the program may try to collect missed premiums by adjusting your payroll deductions.) If you already receive direct bills or pay through automatic bank withdrawals, then nothing will change. See the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program Web site for details.
Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance
Coverage will continue, but you will be billed directly if you miss making payments through payroll deduction for two consecutive pay periods. You'll need to pay that bill yourself for the coverage to continue.
Thrift Savings Plan
Your TSP won't be affected during the shutdown, although you will not be making new contributions because they are made via payroll deduction. You may want to adjust your contribution level after you start getting paid again, so you can contribute the maximum by the end of the year.
You can take a TSP loan during the shutdown, but your loan payments will stop because they are usually deducted from your pay. Loans aren't considered in default until you miss more than 2½ payments. If that time is getting close, you may want to pay directly, or you could get notice of a balloon payment when you start getting paid again. See the shutdown information at TSP.gov for more information.
The Department of Labor's Shutdown Information page has a lot of information about federal pay and benefits during a shutdown. Also see the U.S. Office of Personnel Management Guidance for Shutdown Furloughs for details. The rules can be different for federal contractors; contact your agency for details.
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