Federal workers caught in the middle apply for unemployment

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) – Thousands of federal employees and their families are applying for unemployment and food stamps to get by as the longest government shutdown in U.S. history drags on with no end in sight. But for some of them, it has been an exercise in confusion and frustration.

Others, meanwhile, are hesitant to apply, knowing they will have to pay back the unemployment benefits when they finally return to work.

The U.S. Labor Department says the number of furloughed federal employees seeking unemployment benefits has jumped, from fewer than a thousand per week before the shutdown to more than 10,000 during the week that ended Jan. 5.

The rules on unemployment benefits make no sense to Charisma Banks, whose husband is deployed on a ship with the Coast Guard but is not getting paid. The Chesapeake, Virginia, woman called the Virginia unemployment office to ask whether her husband could qualify for benefits.

She was told no.

The Labor Department says that federal employees who aren’t working during the shutdown can collect unemployment. Those who are on the job without pay cannot.

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