An emergency legislation allowing federal employees who reside in D.C., and have been working without pay during the government shutdown, to file for unemployment benefits will be introduced by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, according to her announcement on January 22.
The mayor brought up the issue during a press conference, but the legislation is likely to be in conflict with the U.S. Labor Department which says only furloughed federal employees are eligible for employment benefits.
The emergency legislation must be approved by the D.C. Council, but it is not clear when the council will take it up.
“We’re doing this because we know that our residents cannot wait for the shutdown to end to pay their rent. People are facing eviction, and they are choosing to take medication over buying groceries,” said Bowser, who had last week written to Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, asking him that “essential” federal workers be allowed to file for unemployment during the shutdown. However, the request was turned down by federal officials.
As to whether the legislation can be opposed by the federal government, Bowser added, “We don’t expect that.”
Legal experts think that the mayor’s move violates federal regulations. Debra D’Agostino, the founding partner of the Federal Practice Group specializing in federal employment issues said: “How the federal government decides to enforce that is anyone’s guess.”
Bowser also announced at the same press conference an additional $2 million in local funds for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also called food stamps. “This $2 million in local funds will allow DHS to provide SNAP benefits to those families because we’re not certain when the federal funds will continue to flow for them,” said Bowser, noting that the ongoing government shutdown is affecting the fiscal outlook of D.C.
“We will have to plan for tens of millions of dollars of losses because of this unnecessary shutdown,” the mayor added.