The state Employment Security Department furloughed 418 state employees on Tuesday and reduced hours for another 450 workers because of the federal government shutdown.
That represents about half of the 1,669 people employed by the agency. Employment Security, which gets 87 percent of its funding from the federal government, is using state dollars to pay the staff needed to process unemployment claims.
“We figure we can keep going with the state funds for a few weeks. If we go on for a month, we’ll have to reexamine that,” said Sheryl Hutchison, a spokeswoman for the agency.
Hutchison said the department furloughed managers, human resource staff and fraud investigators, among others. Congress is likely to authorize back pay for furloughed federal employees, but that appears unlikely to happen for state workers, she said.
“Under the state constitution there’s a limitation of the gifting of funds for work that was not performed,” Hutchison said. “So our ability to reimburse state employees retroactively is in question.”
On a more positive note, the Washington Military Department has called back most of the 850 workers it furloughed at the beginning of the month because of congressional action to pay civilian military employees.
The department has called back 764 military employees, all of whom will likely get back pay, said Karina Shagren, a spokeswoman for the agency. However, 80 state employees remain on furlough and, as is the case with employment security, it appears they won’t be eligible for back pay.