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More than 600 federal workers in Alabama applied for unemployment during shutdown

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Nearly 650 federal employees in Alabama filed unemployment claims during the 35-day partial government shutdown.

Now that’s it over and they’re receiving pay for the time they were furloughed, they must pay back the unemployment benefit.

Madison and Jefferson counties had the most claims.

The Alabama Department of Labor, which handles unemployment benefits, saw claims from 646 federal employees between Dec. 22, 2018, when the shutdown began, and this week, department spokeswoman Tara Hutchison said.

She said the department couldn’t say for certain that all of those claims were shutdown related, but usually only 30 to 40 federal employees file claims in a given month.

“We can infer that the great majority of them are related (to the shutdown),” Hutchinson said.

The longest government shutdown ever ended, at least temporarily, Jan. 25. The agreement to open the government came as about 800,000 federal employees missed their second consecutive paycheck, the Associated Press reported.

The maximum unemployment benefit in Alabama is $265 per week. Because furloughed workers are to receive back pay from their employers, they must now pay back Labor any money they received. Hutchison said the department will work with individuals on repayment plans. 

Federal employees who were working without pay during the shutdown did not qualify for unemployment, according to Labor.

Meanwhile, the threat of another shutdown lingers.

On Thursday, The Hill reported President Donald Trump said he will not accept a deal to avert a shutdown this month without money for his long-desired border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, pushing back on Democrats who stressed their opposition to a wall.

“No. Because if there’s no wall, it doesn’t work,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, according to The Hill, when asked if he could accept border measures other than a wall.

It’s not surprising Madison County topped Labor’s list of unemployment claims. The AP reported last month that about 70 federal agencies are located at the Army’s 38,000-acre Redstone Arsenal. More than half of the area’s economy is tied to Washington spending.

Counties with the most unemployment claims from federal workers through Jan. 22:

Madison: 140

Jefferson: 97

Mobile: 39

Montgomery: 39

Calhoun: 21


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