Wisconsin receives few federal unemployment claims as shutdown enters week 3

January 5, 2019

Two weeks into a federal government shutdown, Wisconsin has not seen a significant uptick in unemployment claims from government workers.

The Department of Workforce Development reported just 30 initial claims from federal employees in the week ending Dec. 29, the first full week of the shutdown.

There were 104 ongoing unemployment claims from federal workers, a number that has been virtually unchanged throughout the month.

That does not include federal workers who hold a second job in the private sector, so the total number is likely higher.

Overall new claims jumped by nearly 3,500, although seasonal bumps are not uncommon, according to DWD.

Because workers would have to repay unemployment benefits if Congress authorizes back pay, a DWD spokeswoman said some employees may have held off filing until it became clear the shutdown would last longer than a few days.

But the prospect of back pay is “not a guarantee,” said Matt Muchowski, District 7 office manager for AFGE, the union representing about 18,000 federal employees from Wisconsin.

Most workers just received their check for the pay period ending Dec. 22 and don’t know how long it will be until their next check. For some, Muchowski said, unemployment benefits “could mean the difference between paying their rent, keeping the lights on in the house.”

Muchowski notes that some of the lowest-paid employees — including TSA agents and prison guards — are expected to show up for work even though they aren’t getting paid.

“It’s going to make it real hard,” said James Calhoun, vice president of the union representing about 700 TSA agents in Wisconsin. “A lot of officers, they’re living check to check.”

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