HARTFORD, CT — Surrounded by federal workers who cannot collect unemployment because they have been called back to work, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal called Thursday for an end to the practice.
“An increasing number of furloughed federal employees have been called back to work and they will lose unemployment benefits,” Blumenthal said at a press conference at the Legislative Office Building.
“This is unfair, unjust and unacceptable,” Blumenthal said.
Workers who have been called back to work without compensation, Blumenthal said, “can be paid, should be paid, just like furlough workers that are at home.”
Blumenthal and the other members of the Connecticut delegation on Thursday, the 27th day of the partial federal shutdown, sent a letter to U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta urging the agency to take immediate steps to extend unemployment compensation to federal employees in Connecticut who are working without pay.
The letter noted that the workers are just about to miss their second full paycheck.
“In Connecticut, there are approximately 1,500 federal employees who are either furloughed or working without pay,” the delegation’s letter said. “Many of these employees have expressed how they are unable to pay their bills and how this financial stress is affecting their personal and professional lives,” the delegation wrote in the letter to Acosta.
One of those workers is Bryan Krampovitis, an air traffic controller at Bradley International Airport.
Krampovitis said at Blumenthal’s press conference that many of his fellow Bradley workers are starting to talk about “taking side jobs such as Uber or Lyft” drivers. He said talking about second jobs is concerning because their total focus should be on passenger and airport security.
Krampovitis said he, too, is feeling the pinch, stating that he lives in West Haven and his commute is costing him “$15 to $20 a day in gas” and $250 a week in childcare costs.
Paul Feragne, a transportation security officer at Bradley, said the airport workers needed politicians’ help because, he said, workers’ emails and phone calls to the Labor Department requesting assistance have been ignored.
The Connecticut delegation, in their letter, pressed the Labor Department to provide guidance to states like Connecticut on how to provide unemployment compensation benefits to federal employees working without pay, waive the work search requirement for furloughed employees and those working without pay who are paid unemployment compensation, and to authorize states to provide lenient procedures for those employees to repay those benefits upon return to paid work.
In the letter, the delegation also reiterated support for existing requests to aid federal workers during the federal shutdown, including Gov. Ned Lamont’s efforts to change Connecticut’s unemployment compensation laws.
Lawyers with Connecticut’s Labor Department determined that the state could lose millions of dollars in federal funds if the commissioner waives the work search requirement for federal workers who are not being paid but are technically still employed.
Blumenthal also praised Lamont for a program the governor announced Tuesday. Connecticut has teamed up with Webster Bank to guarantee no-interest loans to federal workers impacted by the shutdown.
Lamont said Webster Bank will offer the no-interest loans and the state of Connecticut “would back-stop this.”
John R. Ciulla, president and CEO of Webster Bank, said they are pleased to provide interest-free loans to these workers.
“We’re really happy to do it,” Ciulla said. “It’s simply the right thing to do.”
Ciulla said he’s confident other banks will participate and the details of how to get the loans will soon be made available.
The details of the loan program are still being worked out and it could cost up to $5 million per month, but it’s unclear how much each worker would receive.
“I want to thank the governor for his inventive and very important way” of helping federal workers, Blumenthal said.
“This could be a model (program) for the country,” the senator continued. “It is enormously helpful in providing a financial bridge and a source of comfort to those who face mortgages and people living paycheck to paycheck.”
Lamont is also encouraging municipalities to delay collecting property taxes from affected employees.
Several municipal leaders have been approached by federal workers who live in their towns, or groups representing them, asking officials to provide food assistance or extend tax payment deadlines, to assist the workers and their families.
The shutdown, which entered its 27th day Thursday and is the longest in the country’s history, shows no signs of ending soon as Democrats and the White House remain at an impasse over granting Trump more than $5 billion for a wall or steel barrier on the southern border.
Trump insists the wall is needed for national security while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called it “immoral,” leading to the standoff.