Unemployment benefits related to partial federal government shutdown

(en español)

Updated Jan. 17, 2019

Dear Federal Employees,

Thank you so much for your service to our country! As a fellow colleague in the public sector and as a former federal employee, I have a profound appreciation for how your work positively impacts our communities and our nation.

Since you have a job, I imagine you weren’t expecting to come to this website anytime soon to apply for unemployment benefits. While unemployment insurance is designed as a safety net for those between jobs, we also can extend benefits to you while you are on furlough due to the partial government shutdown.

Eligibility can be complicated, but we’re working hard to make your application experience as easy and fast as possible, and to expedite getting benefits to you. We have: 

  • Dedicated specific staff time to handle the increased workload.
  • Created this web page with:
    • A summary of key steps to apply for benefits.
    • Information about when and how you will get paid and the process to pay back the benefits when you receive back pay.
    • Frequently asked questions and links to more information.

Please know that the Employment Security Department is mobilized and ready to help you through this difficult time. 

Sincerely,
Commissioner Suzi LeVine


Who is eligible for unemployment benefits

If you’re furloughed (temporary leave without pay)
You should be eligible for benefits, as long as you meet other eligibility requirements.

If you’re working part time without pay
You could be eligible, depending on your gross earnings.

If you’re working full time without pay
You’re not eligible for unemployment benefits.

If you’re a federal contractor
If you work for a company that is contracted by the U.S. government, you are not considered a federal employee. However, if you are laid off by your company because of the shutdown, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits.


QUICK START: How to apply for unemployment benefits

  1. It’s usually faster to apply for benefits online using eServices. You also can apply by phone at 800-318-6022. The day you can call depends on the last digit of your social security number. Find out when you can apply for unemployment benefits by phone.
     
    Find step-by-step instructions for both application methods on our website.
     
    If you do not have internet or phone access at home, you may use both at your local WorkSource office. However, please note that WorkSource employees provide re-employment services; they cannot process unemployment claims and cannot answer questions about your claim.
     
    Pointer for furloughed employees: When you are asked for the reason for your separation, you need to select the “lack of work” Option. Do not select “strike/lockout” or “fired.” The furlough is not the result of a labor dispute (strike or lockout) or your employer firing you from your job. Selecting either of those options will slow down your claim.
     
    Pointer for those working part time without pay: When asked about your separation, report that you are still working.
     
  1. To speak to a live person, claims center agents are available to answer your questions by phone from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday (except holidays). If you want to schedule a specific day and time range for a claims center agent to call you back, please go to our Schedule a callback
      
  1. Normally, we can get your wage information from the federal payroll offices, but many are closed until the shutdown ends. To solve that problem, we will send you an “Affidavit of Federal Civilian Service Wages and Reason for Separation” form by mail after you apply for benefits. Return this form along with:
  • Earnings information for your base year (past 15 months). This can include:
    • Pay stubs, or
    • Your W-2, or
    • A printout of earnings from the payroll department.
  • A copy of your SF8 or SF50 forms.

You can upload the documents using your eServices account. You also can mail or fax them to:

Special Wage and Benefits Unit
P.O. Box 9046
Olympia, WA 98507-9046
Fax (toll-free): 877-890-2633


When you can expect to receive your first payment

The first week you are eligible for benefits on a claim is a mandatory unpaid waiting week. You will not be paid benefits for your waiting week. Your second week of unemployment will be the first potentially payable week. Payment is normally available within three to four business days after you submit a weekly claim for that second week of unemployment. If you sign up for direct deposit, you’ll get benefits faster. See below.

Please note: After you apply, you must submit a weekly claim for every week you wish to be paid. You also must submit a weekly claim for your waiting week to get credit for that week.

Direct deposit or debit card
If you signed up for direct deposit, payment is normally available within four business days of submitting your weekly claim.

If you signed up to receive your benefit payments on a debit card, you will receive the card within 7-10 business days after applying. After you receive your debit card, you will receive your benefits normally within four business days of submitting your weekly claim.


If you are a furloughed federal worker

If you have been furloughed as a direct result of the federal shutdown, you may be eligible for regular unemployment benefits. 

Q: I’m being put on temporary leave without pay (furloughed). Am I eligible for unemployment benefits for the time I’m off?
A:
 As a general rule, if you are unemployed through no fault of your own and are available to work, you should be eligible for benefits – assuming you meet other eligibility requirements. However, if you receive unemployment benefits while you are furloughed and are later awarded back pay for any weeks you received unemployment benefits, you will have to repay those unemployment benefits. (See “If you are a federal employee working without pay” below.)

Keep in mind: Unemployment benefits are determined on a weekly basis. You have to be unemployed for most or all of a week (Sunday through Saturday) in order to be eligible for benefits.

If you normally work full time and your hours are reduced by one work day in a week, you may not be eligible for benefits if you still earn too much in that week to be eligible. Estimate your weekly unemployment benefit amount, then use the earnings deduction chart to see if the one-day reduction in your gross pay makes you eligible for any benefits.

NOTE: We decide eligibility on a case-by-case basis. Anyone has a right to apply for benefits and claim weekly benefits. When we have all the facts, we will decide if you’re eligible.

 
Q: Should I apply for unemployment benefits by phone or on the website?
A:
 The quickest way to apply for benefits is online at https://secure.esd.wa.gov/home/

You can also apply by phone at 800-318-6022. The day you can call depends on the last digit of your social security number. Find instructions on our website.
  

Q: I am temporarily unemployed as a result of the federal shutdown. What should I report as the reason for my separation when I apply for unemployment benefits?
A:
 Report your separation as a “lack of work.” Do not select “strike/lockout” or “fired.” The furlough is not the result of a labor dispute (strike or lockout) or your employer firing you from your job. Selecting either of those options will slow down your claim.
  

Q: How does the Employment Security Department contact my employer if my employer is shut down?
A:  
As part of the application process, Employment Security contacts your employer to verify your wages. However, many of the federal payroll offices are closed until the shutdown ends. To solve that problem, we will send you an “Affidavit of Federal Civilian Service Wages and Reason for Separation” form by mail after you apply for benefits. Return this form along with:

  • Earnings information for your base year (past 15 months). This can include:
    • Pay stubs, or
    • Your W-2, or
    • A printout of earnings from the payroll department.
  • A copy of your SF8 or SF50 forms.

You can upload the documents using your eServices account. You also can mail or fax them to:

Special Wage and Benefits Unit
P.O. Box 9046
Olympia, WA 98507-9046
Fax (toll-free): 877-890-2633
  

Q: When can I expect to receive my first payment?
A:
 The first week you are eligible for benefits on a claim is a mandatory unpaid waiting week. You will not be paid benefits for your waiting week. Your second week of unemployment will be the first potentially payable week. Payment is normally available within three to four business days after you submit a weekly claim for that second week of unemployment. If you sign up for direct deposit, you’ll get benefits faster. See below.

Please note: After you apply, you must submit a weekly claim for every week you wish to be paid. You also must submit a weekly claim for your waiting week to get credit for that week.
  

Q: Will I get my payments faster by direct deposit or by debit card?
A: If you sign up for direct deposit, you’ll get benefits faster — normally within four business days of submitting your weekly claim.

If you signed up to receive your benefit payments on a debit card, you will receive the card within 7-10 business days after applying. After you receive your debit card, you will receive your benefits normally within four business days of submitting your weekly claim.
  

Q: Will I get paid for every week I file a claim?
A:
  You will be paid for every week you submit a weekly claim after your mandatory waiting week.
  

Q: Do I have to look for a job if I am waiting to go back to work with my employer?
A:
  No. Federal employees who are separated as a result of the government shutdown are not required to look for work during the furlough if Employment Security grants you “standby” status. See below.

You may ask to be placed on standby if you:

  • Are a full-time employee.
  • Expect to return to full-time work with your regular employer once the shutdown ends.

Follow these instructions to request standby. When you apply for unemployment benefits:

  • Answer “yes” to the question, “Do you have a definite return-to-work date with this employer on or before mm/dd/yyyy?”
  • When you are asked for the specific date you will return to work, enter a date four weeks (28 days) in the future.

If you apply by phone, tell the claims agent that you are unemployed as a direct result of the federal shutdown and expect to return to work once the shutdown ends.
  

Q: What do I do once I return to work?
A: When you return to work, simply stop submitting your weekly claims. Even though you are no longer claiming, be sure to keep your contact information up to date to receive year-end tax information.


If you are a federal employee working without pay

Q: If I am working without pay, am I eligible for unemployment benefits?
A: No, if you’re working full time. Maybe, if you’re working part time. 

Full-time workers
Federal workers in Washington state who are currently working full time but are not being paid during the partial government shutdown are not eligible for unemployment benefits because they are considered fully employed.

Part-time workers
If you are employed part time, you may be eligible for some unemployment benefits depending on the amount of your gross earnings. Estimate your weekly unemployment benefit amount, then use the earnings deduction chart to see if your gross pay makes you eligible for any benefits.


If you are a federal contractor

Q: I am a federal contractor affected by the federal shutdown. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?
A:
If you work for a company that is contracted by the U.S. government, you are not considered a federal employee. However, if you are furloughed by your company during the shutdown, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits.

If you do receive unemployment benefits and later receive back pay during the shutdown, you will be required to repay any unemployment benefits you received.


If you receive back pay after receiving unemployment benefits

On Jan 16, 2019, President Trump officially signed a bill that guarantees back pay for federal workers who have been furloughed during the government's partial shutdown.

Q: What happens if I receive back pay after the shutdown has ended?
A: If you receive back pay, you will be responsible for paying back any unemployment benefits received. If you have already received unemployment benefits and you then receive payment from your government job, you must provide detailed information to Employment Security about the compensation you received, including dates worked and gross earnings.
 

Q: How do I pay back unemployment insurance benefits?
A: First we will send you paperwork about the back pay and then we will issue you a decision. The decision will indicate that you are at fault for the “overpayment,” because you cannot receive back pay and unemployment benefits at the same time. We will send you an “Overpayment Statement” by mail. Payments can be made online or by mail. If you wish to make installments, the minimum monthly payment equals one-third of your weekly benefit amount, 3 percent of the balance, or $25, whatever is greater.

We don’t charge interest unless you miss part or all of two or more minimum monthly payments. If that happens, we charge 1 percent interest per month. Read more about the repaying benefits and how we calculate interest.


Financial resources for federal workers and contractors

Washington State Department of Financial Institutions
The Washington State Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) has developed a list of financial resources for federal workers impacted by the government shutdown. If you are a federal government employee or contractor experiencing financial uncertainty as a result of the government shutdown, check out the resources on the DFI website.

2-1-1 Local and Community Resources
If you have been impacted by the current U.S. government shutdown, 2-1-1 may be able to help. Dial "211" to speak to a specialist, or search for your local 2-1-1 website using this website's search bar to find an online database of resources.


See more information about unemployment benefits for federal employees.