Governor Sisolak sends letter to Department of Labor asking for clarity on unemployment insurance for unpaid, essential federal workers

Carson City, NV January 25, 2019

Governor Steve Sisolak today sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta asking for additional information on Department of Labor guidance on unemployment insurance for unpaid, essential federal workers. Under Department of Labor guidance, furloughed federal workers who perform essential services without pay, as they have during the federal shutdown, are not considered “unemployed” under state regulations and are deemed ineligible to receive unemployment insurance benefits.

“Our federal workers should not be put in this position,” said Gov. Sisolak. “Even with a temporary deal, federal workers like our TSA screeners and FAA personnel will find themselves facing the same financial strain and uncertainty if a permanent agreement is not reached by February 15th.”

In the letter, Gov. Sisolak asks Secretary Acosta to:

  • Clearly specify what, if any, action the Department of Labor will take against states that provide unemployment benefits to essential furloughed workers who are required to work without pay;
  • Confirm federal funds will remain available to reimburse benefits paid to essential federal employees and for any administrative costs associated with payment of benefits 

Gov. Sisolak continues to work with the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) to explore and pursue all options for providing such federal workers access to unemployment benefits should a federal shutdown reoccur.

If a federal shutdown does reoccur, Gov. Sisolak will consider joining other states including California, Colorado, and Washington in directing that a reasonable interpretation of unemployment compensation laws would allow for the payment of unemployment insurance benefits to furloughed essential federal employees, such as TSA screeners and FAA personnel.

The full text of the letter is below:

The Honorable Alexander Acosta
Secretary
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20210

Dear Secretary Acosta:

As Governor of the State of Nevada, I write on behalf of the many federal workers who live and work in Nevada who are experiencing tremendous financial hardship due to the federal government shutdown. While the President and Congress have reportedly reached an agreement to temporarily end the federal shutdown, I am very concerned that the federal government could be closed again after February 15th. As such, I write to you to address this unjust situation in the event another shutdown occurs in three weeks.

As you are aware, the Department’s guidance states that federal workers who are furloughed but performing essential services are not “unemployed” within the meaning of the states’ unemployment compensation acts, leaving them ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits according to eligibility rules under 20 C.F.R. § 609.3(d). Despite being required to work, such federal workers have been unfairly deprived of pay for weeks and are unjustly prohibited from receiving unemployment benefits under federal law.

As Nevada’s governor, I must consider all available options for alleviating the impacts of this shutdown and any future shutdowns on our residents. As such, I ask you to clearly specify what course of action, if any, the U.S. Department of Labor would take against states seeking to issue unemployment benefits to essential federal personnel. Additionally, I ask for your Department’s assurance that federal funds will be available for reimbursement of unemployment benefits paid to essential federal personnel who are forced to work without pay and for any administrative costs associated with paying those benefits.

Unemployment insurance plays a pivotal role in the lives of Americans who become separated from their employment through no fault of their own. I am deeply concerned for federal workers like our TSA screeners and FAA personnel who have dedicated their careers to federal service and are more constrained in their ability to meet their needs and the needs of their families when the federal government shuts down. Unemployment benefits to essential personnel would, in part, mitigate the costs associated with reporting to work, such as childcare and transportation, and basic necessities like food and housing.

The Department of Labor and the State of Nevada must work together to address the financial hardship suffered by these dedicated, hardworking Nevada federal workers. Therefore, on behalf Nevada’s federal workers who have been and could continue to be required to work without pay, I request that the Department of Labor waive the unemployment insurance eligibility rules under 20 C.F.R. § 609.3(d) and authorize the State of Nevada to provide the necessary relief to such federal workers and their families by awarding them unemployment benefits.

I look forward to your swift response, as you have the ability to help with measures that states can take to provide relief to essential personnel who have had to bear the brunt of the impact of this federal government shutdown and any future shutdowns.

Thank you for your consideration and prompt attention to this reasonable request.

Sincerely,

Governor Steve Sisolak

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Contact

Christina Amestoy
Interim Communications Director