U.S. states act to ease unpaid federal workers’ pain

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CHICAGO (Reuters) – With the U.S. government shutdown now in its fourth week, states have begun taking steps to cushion the blow for federal workers who have been tossed out of work or forced to work without pay.

Measures range from special arrangements for accessing unemployment benefits to an interest-free loan backstopped by state coffers.

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont on Tuesday announced a partnership with private banks in the state to give federal workers who do not qualify for unemployment insurance access to no-interest loans guaranteed by the state during the shutdown.

“Working together, we can ensure that federal workers receive the money necessary for critical expenses even while the federal government shutdown remains at an impasse,” the Democratic governor said in a statement.

Other states are making it easier for federal workers to apply for unemployment benefits.

California, home to about 245,000 federal workers, has set up a dedicated toll-free number for them to call to file claims. In the week ended Dec. 29, nearly 780 federal workers filed for unemployment benefits in that state.

Maryland, which has 147,524 federal workers, has extended the operations of its unemployment claims call centre by two more hours daily to accommodate increased demand. As of Jan. 10, more than 1,700 claims were filed by federal workers, the state reported.

Virginia, which has processed just over 650 claims, is keeping mum on plans for dealing with the record-long shutdown to avoid giving the federal government the impression that states can cope with the fallout.

“We’re doing some things but we disagree strongly with the president and others who think that this is not having impacts on the employees themselves and of course our economy,” Aubrey Layne Jr., Virginia’s secretary of finance, said on Wednesday.

“We don’t want to send that signal that somehow this is OK and the feds could continue the shutdown,” he added.