The move is expected to help employees of the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, food inspectors and Coast Guard personnel.
OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday announced an expansion of unemployment benefits to federal employees working without pay in America’s longest government shutdown.
Inslee’s announcement on the 34th day of the partial shutdown came one day before another missed federal payday and as the state begins to see more impacts from the loss of federal workers.
“This is most unfair and most egregious,” Inslee said in a news conference. “There are nearly 16,000 Washingtonians who are about to lose a second paycheck as a result of this federal shutdown.”
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Under the new expansion, so-called “essential” workers being directed to work through the shutdown for no money will be allowed to apply for a partial wage replacement backdated to the beginning of the shutdown.
Included in those ranks are employees of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the FBI, food inspectors and Coast Guard personnel.
The new expansion, which comes through the state Employment Security Department (ESD), could help approximately half of Washington’s nearly 16,000 federal workers who are not receiving paychecks, according to Inslee and state officials.
“It is the right thing to do,” said Inslee.
Federal workers in Washington state have collectively lost an estimated $29.3 million per week in wages during the shutdown, according to data compiled by ESD. About $16.6 million of those lost wages come from an estimated 8,200 federal employees in King County.
Other counties with large numbers of potentially impacted federal workers include Whatcom County (1,050), Spokane County (945) and Grant County (634). Snohomish County has 452 workers potentially impacted by the shutdown, while Pierce County has 554, according to the data.
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Federal workers who have been furloughed and are not working have already been able to apply for unemployment benefits.
The wage replacement is coming from the state’s unemployment trust fund, and workers would have to repay the state once they receive their backpay for lost wages.
The average annual wage of the affected workers in Washington is about $82,000 per year, according to Suzi LeVine, commissioner of the ESD. But, she added, “many are below $50,000 a year.”
The maximum amount of weekly compensation unemployment benefits is $749 per week, said LeVine.
Roughly the same time as Inslee’s news conference, the U.S. Senate took a pair of votes geared toward breaking the stalemate — and both failed.
The shutdown started after President Donald Trump and Congress did not agree on his calls to fund more of a wall along the southern border.
It has prevented the funding of dozens of federal agencies and nine Cabinet-level departments, including those of Agriculture, Homeland Security, Interior, Justice, State and Transportation.
As the weeks pass, more impacts of the shutdown are coming into focus, according to a list of programs compiled by the governor’s office.
The shutdown has led to the cancellation of an annual inspection for one vessel of the Washington State Ferries system, the MV Chimacum. Four other vessels — MV Chelan, MV Salish, MV Tillikum and MV Elwha — are due for their annual inspections in the coming weeks.
Alaska Airlines announced it would have to delay the introduction of its commercial service at Everett’s Paine Field.
At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, some nonregulatory TSA positions are being backfilled by Port of Seattle employees, to help with wait times and staffing shortages.
On Tuesday, aviation employees and their supporters demonstrated outside Sea-Tac Airport to call for an end to the dysfunction.
Meanwhile, the final report into the 2017 Amtrak derailment south of Tacoma has been delayed because inspectors at the National Transportation Safety Board are furloughed.
Among its consequences in Indian Country, the shutdown has opened up a 23 percent budget shortfall at the Seattle Indian Health Board. It has also stopped timber sales at a Yakama Nation mill and generated estimated losses to the Colville Confederated Tribes.
Earlier, some of Washington’s national parks had closed, and some wildfire-response training events were canceled. The halt of federal money was expected to hamper efforts to undertake food inspections and detect and stop instances of animal disease.