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Federal workers feeling the pain of government shutdown

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Posted at 5:43 PM, Oct 02, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-03 11:33:59-04

After 25 years of government service as both military and a civilian, Perry Jernigan became one of the thousands of federal workers sent home, without pay, after the government shutdown.

“I was notified yesterday to sign paperwork, and leave at 8:30,” says Jernigan.

And after thinking about how he would pay the bills, he ended up at the Virginia Employment Commission.

“If I worked for Ford, GM, Chrysler the federal government would help me, so I’m here,” says Jernigan.

But he will not be treated the same as those workers laid off from private companies specifically because he is a federal employee.

All those furloughed, according to the Virginia Employment Commission, have to apply for benefits by mail.

“Everyone else gets to apply online, but I have to send this in,” says Jernigan.

And these workers are worried it will delay benefits they desperately need to live, like commissary worker Star Johnson.

“You got people out here that could be homeless, but they don’t care about us,” says Johnson.

The Virginia Employment Commission says it’s all because the federal government does not report their workers' wages to the states.

The online enrollment system cannot be used without that information, so a central office in Richmond will have to process everything by hand.

The VEC says it will actually help them process claims faster... but these furloughed workers say its another way they have been left behind by their government.

It is estimated that up to 800,000 civilian employees could be without work during the shutdown and the first wave have already left their jobs.

Some immediately turned to temporary unemployment assistance, and states worked feverishly to keep pace with increased claims.

In Maryland alone, which has a high concentration of government employees due to its proximity to Washington, claims have spiked.

The state usually receives between 2,500 and 3,500 claims per year from federal workers. It received 4,000 on Tuesday alone, the first day of the shutdown over the inability of Congress to approve spending legislation in time for the start of the new fiscal year.

Maureen O'Connor, a spokeswoman for Maryland's Department of Labor, said the state is working through claims as best as it can.

In Washington, the Department of Employment Services has also noticed an increase in claims and is encouraging furloughed workers to file their paperwork online for faster processing.

Rules for filling a claim vary from state to state. Some have a mandatory waiting period before a filing will be accepted. Others are encouraging workers to hold off for the first two weeks because of uncertainty over how long the shutdown will last.

Even workers who are able to file a claim quickly may have to wait two weeks or more before they receive a payment.

It remains unclear if furloughed workers will be paid retroactively. In previous shutdowns, furloughed employees received back-pay once spending measures were approved.

If workers are paid for their furlough days, they will have to return unemployment compensation.

Furloughed contractors can also file for unemployment assistance.

CNN contributed to this report. 

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