Federal workers back on job must repay state benefits

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Unemployment benefits are an important part of our social safety net. The tax money collected to support those who are truly in need should be used only for that purpose.

However, we all know that doesn’t always happen. Some people try — and succeed — in getting more money than they are entitled to or need to get by.

It’s stealing.

And it’s also stealing when people refuse to return unemployment payments they are required to return when their circumstances change.

That’s something many federal employees in Washington state should think about as they are being asked to return the unemployment payments they received during the 16-day federal government shutdown.

Congress has authorized those workers who were sent home to receive their back pay. As a result, they are legally required to return the unemployment cash, which amounts to an average of $438 per week for individuals, for a total of $500,000. That’s not a trivial amount.

“All the federal employees will have to repay the money they received during the furlough,” said Bill Tarrow, a spokesman for the state Employment Security Department.

Tarrow told The Seattle Times his office is working with federal agencies to try to have the money withheld from workers’ next paychecks. If the federal government doesn’t cooperate, federal officials will go to each worker asking for money.

The workers should return the money. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it will save them and state officials a lot of hassles.

The government shutdown, which was not really a shutdown, has been ridiculous from the start. It was nothing more than political shenanigans used by Republicans and Democrats to convince the public their stand on the budget/Obamacare/debt ceiling mess was correct.

It only succeeded in bolstering the public perception that Congress is dysfunctional.

It was clear from the start of the shutdown it was extremely likely (as in 98 percent) workers would receive pay for the days they didn’t work.

Nevertheless, those folks didn’t get a pay check during that time and needed to pay the mortgage, buy the groceries and pay the bills.

So, at the time, the unemployment money was essential to those nonworking federal employees.

But that money should have been considered an emergency loan rather than an entitlement payment.

While the workers have moral and legal obligations to pay back the money, state officials need to temper their zeal to recover it with compassion. Some of the workers have not yet gotten their back pay, so they are still short on cash for living expenses.

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