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Workers furloughed in U.S. shutdown must return jobless benefits

Federal workers enter the Ted Weiss Federal Building in the lower Manhattan area of New York October 17, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Federal workers enter the Ted Weiss Federal Building in the lower Manhattan area of New York October 17, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Federal employees furloughed during the partial shutdown of the U.S. government this month will have to return any jobless benefits they received given that Congress has approved retroactive pay, the Labor Department said on Friday.

States will have to collect and send back to the federal government unemployment benefits granted to thousands of federal workers after Congress deadlocked over the U.S. budget and suspended most salaries for two weeks, according to a notice sent to state workforce agencies from Eric Seleznow, an acting assistant secretary at the Department of Labor.

In the first week of the October 1-16 shutdown, the number of federal workers filing for benefits rose to 70,068, 50 times the number of filers the week before, according to the notice. Congress had approved paying employees for the furlough days once the budget issue was approved.

Funds to cover the benefits come directly from the federal government, so states spent money only on administrative costs.

Because of its state law, Oregon had said federal employees in the state might be able keep their benefits.

The notice cleared up the confusion, and now the state will send letters to all those who received benefits requesting they return the money, said Tom Fuller, spokesman for the state's employment department.

Almost all of the 733 people in Oregon who filed initial claims during the shutdown, collecting a total of $389,739 in benefits, were furloughed federal workers, said Fuller. An additional 1,153 had filed for benefits at some point earlier in the year, and re-opened their claims. The state must determine what portion of those claimants were seasonal workers laid off by the Bureau of Land Management and federal forests as fire season ended.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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