'Essential' federal government employees in Oregon work without pay during shutdown

TSA screening PDX (SBG photo)

PORTLAND, Ore. – The partial government shutdown is causing some federal workers in Oregon to stay on the job without getting paid.

A partial government shutdown began late Friday night after Congress could not reach an agreement on President Donald Trump’s demands for $5 billion to fund the Mexican border wall.

The government employees who are working without pay are designated as essential workers. They’re needed for day-to-day operations people are counting on.

“It’s difficult to know how many people might be impacted, especially with it being a partial shutdown,” said David Gerstenfeld, Oregon division director for unemployment insurance.

State employment department leaders said federal workers in Oregon out of work during a government shutdown can file for unemployment benefits under a special unemployment insurance program administered by each state for federal workers.

“They would typically have to wait a week before they’re eligible to receive benefits. So, if they’re only unemployed for one week for a furlough, then they would typically not receive any benefits. If it goes on for more than one week, then they could start receiving unemployment benefits,” Gerstenfeld explained.

That might be true for many federal workers, but that’s not the case for those designated “essential” because of the kind of work they do. For example, screeners who work for the Transportation Security Administration at Portland International Airport.

Those TSA workers won’t be paid under a shutdown, but will have to show up for work because their jobs have been designated as critical top operations that keep airports open.

“You know, I didn’t actually think about it until just this moment, and now I’m worried,” said Amy Zablocki, who missed her flight to San Diego Friday out of Portland. She didn’t realize some federal employees will have to work and not get paid if there’s a federal government shutdown.

“They’re going to be some very unhappy employees, I would think,” she said.

Nick Beleiciks, an Oregon employment economist, said there are potentially 21,000 federal workers that could be affected by the shutdown. However, he says most of them will not be because many of their jobs are not considered “essential.”

During the full government shutdown in 2013, which lasted more than two weeks, state employment leaders said only a little over 500 federal workers applied for and received unemployment benefits for being out of work.

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