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DC mayor says Labor Dept. denied request for unemployment aid for ‘essential’ workers

Posted: 7:08 PM, Jan 17, 2019
Updated: 2019-01-17 21:57:23-05

The Department of Labor on Thursday denied a request from Washington’s mayor to make more federal employees who are working without pay eligible to collect unemployment benefits, Mayor Muriel Bowser said Thursday.

The Labor Department’s response to Bowser’s request Monday fell on the 27th day of the partial government shutdown, the longest in US history . Most furloughed and essential federal employees missed their first paychecks last Friday , and will miss their second checks if lawmakers do not come to a consensus in time for the government to make payroll at midnight Tuesday.

Furloughed employees can file unemployment claims in DC. But employees deemed essential — who must work without pay during the shutdown — cannot currently claim unemployment benefits. A news release from Bowser said 7,548 federal workers and contractors in DC have applied for the benefits.

“It is unconscionable for the Trump Administration to acknowledge that these individuals are working without pay and with no end in sight, but will not make the smallest effort to help them by allowing states to offer unemployment insurance benefits,” Bowser said in the news release. “DC wants to do more and we are willing to step up. These employees continue to work, they’re taking on the cost of commuting to work, yet, they’re not getting paid nor are they receiving any financial assistance.”

The Labor Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bowser is not the only city leader concerned about the possible local effects of the shutdown. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told CNN she is concerned about the impacts of the shutdown on people traveling through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport when the city hosts Super Bowl LIII in February.

“We’re concerned. It’s frustrating, it’s concerning,” Bottoms said in an interview Thursday. “We are hosting one of the biggest, most-watched events in the world in just a few weeks and there are real concerns about will our airport be up and functioning in a way that we need it to be.”

Bottoms added that the city looked into paying some Transportation Security Administration employees through the city’s airport fund, but was told that wasn’t possible.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom told TSA employees Thursday in Sacramento that he received a “jaw dropping and extraordinary” letter from the department telling eight states, including California, that they cannot provide essential federal employees with unemployment benefits.

“The good news is, we’re going to do it, and shame on them,” he said, adding, “They’re in essence threatening us for doing what we’re doing. So that’s why I’m here, to say we’re going to do it.”