The Politics Blog

UPDATE - After U.S. House budget vote, state Employment Security workers return Thursday

Staff writerOctober 16, 2013 

Denny Heck


Update as of 1:30 p.m. Oct. 17:

Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Employment Security Department say all federally funded state workers laid off due to the federal government shutdown were returning to work Thursday, and all were assured of back pay. 

Inslee put out a statement, saying:

“It is good news for Washingtonians that the federal government shutdown is finally over. Beginning today federal offices will reopen and federal employees and federally-funded state employees will return to work. Washington state escaped the most severe impacts that would have soon hit had Congress not acted, though the past two weeks have brought needless stress to many families here. Fortunately, under the bill to reopen the government that was passed by Congress and signed by the President last night, Washington’s furloughed federal and state workers will be able to receive back-pay, and our state will receive reimbursement for the costs it incurred while continuing to operate important federal services, such as the administration of unemployment benefits.

“Importantly, I am pleased that President Obama held strong and that Congress voted to reopen the government without delaying or impeding our state’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which has provided health coverage to nearly 25,000 Washingtonians in just the first two weeks.

“It is unfortunate that the country was brought to the brink of defaulting on its debt through this political gamesmanship. I know that many Washingtonians are angry at being made victims by D.C.’s dysfunction and the willingness of a group of Congressional Republicans to threaten the nation’s economy to achieve their political goals. I appreciate the work of those members of Congress and those in Washington’s delegation who fought to avoid this shutdown and default. It is my hope that our state and the country can avoid another manufactured crisis like this that would only serve to slow our economic recovery.”

Sheryl Hutchison of Employment Security said all idled state employees, including those who went to part time status at the Military Department, would have lost pay covered by the budget and deficit bill that the U.S. Senate and House approved.

“We had official word from OFM (Office of Financial Management) and the Governor’s Office that people will get back pay,” she said. ESD was preparing to send out pay-claim instructions for its work force.

This Oct. 16 post is updated throughout:

The Washington state Employment Security Department is calling back hundreds of furloughed workers to the office on Thursday morning, following passage of the budget and debt-limit bill in the U.S. Senate and House on Wednesday evening. Language tucked away in the bill suggests that even state workers - who are paid by federal dollars but were idled by the federal shutdown - can be paid for their lost work time, according to U.S. Rep. Denny Heck's aides.

More than 830 state agency workers whose jobs are funded by the federal government were affected by the shutdown at Employment Security. That included 418 who were furloughed and 415 who went on part time schedules after the Oct. 1 shutdown of federal agencies. About 75 workers at the state Military Department also were on part time status due to the shutdown.

ESD had posted information for its workers on its website to guide their eventual return. It also has call-in numbers – 360-407-4799 in Thurston County or toll free at 877-871-4948 for others – telling workers what to do.

“We’re essentially letting employees know that if the budget bill passes both houses of Congress tonight, they should plan to return to work tomorrow,” ESD spokeswoman Sheryl Hutchison said Wednesday afternoon, well before the vote. “We advised employees from the time they were laid off to watch the web site or call that information line."

It is not certain that all furloughed workers can be repaid for their lost time. Hutchison said the agency understood that none would get back pay for lost hours, because they didn’t actually work and the state Constitution prohibits gifts of state resources.

But a spokesman for Heck said the budget has language that provides for that - just as idled federal workers are getting back pay. The key language appears on page 10 of the budget bill – see this rendition on the Washington Post’s site.

"Federally-funded state employees will be covered by this bill," Heck spokesman Phil Gardnersaid. "We’ve confirmed with the Governor’s Office that the Section 116 language is sufficient to cover state employees. Denny’s very pleased that this was included."

Inslee's spokesman David Postman said it looks likely the federally paid state workers will be paid. “We hope and believe it may (happen), but we’re waiting for it to be actually done,’’ he said.

Many state agencies – as reported here – have felt impact from the shutdown and more were bracing for impacts going ahead. But it’s not just state workers who may be sighing in relief if the deal goes through - clients in several programs were facing a possible loss of services. 

For example, the Department of Early Learning was weighing when to notify 24,000 low- income working families that child-care subsidies from the Working Connections program could be cut off at month’s end.

The Department of Social and Health Services also was mulling when to notify nearly 600,000 people who rely on federal funds for food help each month in Washington. In August, there were 592,900 families receiving federal aid in the SNAP program formerly known as food stamps.

Although Employment Security is getting a large share of its workers back in themorning, it may be a while before some of the agency's routine reports are completed. For example, the undone work includes the calculation of unemployment figures for September.

The state had a 7 percent jobless rate in August, but no recalculation was done for September – which typically happens near the start of the following month. Some relevant data tallied by the federal government was never done, and idled federal workers won’t likely be back at work until the president is able to sign a budget agreement.


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