Representative Ken Gordon (D-Bedford) has filed two bills that will directly help Massachusetts federal workers who have been furloughed in the current federal shutdown.
These bills will not only define the workers as specifically eligible for Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits, but they will eliminate the one-week waiting period usually required of unemployed workers and remove the requirement that they repay benefits if they are provided full back pay upon their return to work.
“Our federal workers are being used as bargaining chips by an executive who can’t get Congress to give him his way,” said Rep. Gordon. “We will and we must protect our Massachusetts workers during this crisis.”
The bills would amend UI requirements for the 45,000 federal workers who live in Massachusetts and whose jobs have been suspended during the current partial shutdown. They do not affect workers forced to report to their jobs without pay unless they resign due to their lack of an income. They do not amend UI laws in general.
“The need to eliminate the one-week waiting period should be obvious,” said Gordon. “It usually takes between three and five weeks for a recipient to begin receiving benefits even without the artificial waiting period. These folks have been out of work long enough.”
Gordon recognizes that a portion of the bill absolving furloughed workers from the obligation to repay UI benefits if they are restored with full back pay is politically more complicated. “Some may say that these workers could eventually receive more than they would have earned if they had not been furloughed,” said Gordon. “That’s true. But there is a cost to being without an income. Many people will be forced to borrow money at high interest rates. Others will withdraw from savings or investment accounts and lose interest. The burden will fall on either these workers or on a government that used them as collateral damage in a political dispute. I choose to protect the workers.”
UI benefits for these workers are paid by the federal government, not by the Massachusetts system. They usually amount to between 30 and 50 percent of the worker’s salary, with a cap.
Gordon said he was motivated not only by the interruption of the workers’ access to income but the unfairness of their situation. “There are times when government leaders can’t get their way. I never would have thought we’d see anyone in government, let alone a president of the United States, use our workers as pawns – as hostages — simply to put political pressure on his opponent.
“The crisis in which we find ourselves has little to do with a wall; it has everything to do with whether we will allow our president to victimize our workers,” said Gordon. “This is not about popularity, it is not about campaign slogans. It is about people’s lives. It is flat out wrong.”
Gordon asks Massachusetts residents to contact their state legislators in the next two weeks, to ask they support H.D. 1553, addressing the one-week waiting period and the requirement to return the UI benefit upon receipt of back pay.