MISSOULA — The Unemployment Insurance Division of the Montana Department of Labor and Industry has been serving a steady stream of federal employees furloughed during the government shutdown.
“We’re staying very busy,” said Shirley Rush, bureau chief for claims processing.
Federal employees are considered unemployed and are therefore eligible for unemployment insurance benefits during the shutdown, which has left nonessential federal government workers out of work since Oct. 1.
How much they’re paid and for how long is completely “driven by the individual circumstances,” Rush said Wednesday.
Once eligibility is determined, the payments are figured on previous “base year” figures that differ for each employee. Employers, including the federal government, pay into the system to provide the funds.
Each claimant must wait one week before receiving payments, meaning the first unemployment insurance checks for furloughed federal workers won’t be issued until early next week.
“Sunday is the soonest they can request the payment,” Rush said.
Rush emphasized that if the employees receive back pay after, they’ll have to repay the benefits.
"Some people choose to (file for unemployment insurance) and some don’t. Some are hoping they’ll be back to work in a week, others are covering their bases," Rush said.
Missoula Job Service hasn’t seen an influx of furloughed workers, George Palmer said.
“Most have had instruction that if they file they do it online,” Palmer said. “We see a few, of course, that either don’t have access (to computers) and that come in and use ours.”
Missoula Job Service doesn’t provide unemployment services, but does have several computers where clients can sign up through the claims office in Helena.
The Department of Labor doesn’t yet have exact numbers how many furloughed Montana workers have filed for benefits, Rush said.
“Right now, it’s an ongoing thing,” Rush said. “It’s online and by phone so it really wouldn’t be an accurate picture until it’s done on how many people have actually filed.”