State leaders preparing if federal government shuts down again

Baker says furloughed workers could receive unemployment benefits

AFTER THE LONGEST government shutdown in the nation’s history strained the finances of federal workers going without pay, state leaders say they now have some plans in hand to help those caught up by dysfunction in Washington.

Gov. Charlie Baker, who met with the leaders of the House and Senate on Monday, expressed confidence that the state could facilitate an unemployment compensation system for furloughed federal workers.

“I do believe that we have come up with a way to make some sort of an unemployment compensation system work within the framework of the existing system, and I also think there are some other things we can do to provide protection for people,” Baker told reporters on Monday afternoon. He also said federal food assistance is funded through April.

Earlier in January, the state Department of Unemployment Assistance noted that furloughed federal workers “may be eligible” for unemployment insurance benefits that they would then need to repay if Congress approves retroactive pay, but federal employees who need to work but are unpaid are not eligible because they are not deemed unemployed under the law.

The governor said he expects discussions to continue between his administration and lawmakers about how the state could help the federal workforce in case the federal government shuts down again, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo endorsed a bill the Massachusetts House has already passed that would establish a task force to analyze the shutdown and develop a response plan.

On Friday, the 35th day of what had seemed an intractable disagreement between President Trump and Democrats in Congress, all sides agreed to fund the federal government through February 15. The compromise did not address the $5.7 billion for a proposed barrier on the Mexican border that Trump had previously indicated was a non-negotiable demand for financing other areas of government such as the national parks, the Coast Guard and air traffic control.

The detente between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Trump did little to ease DeLeo’s concerns.

“I don’t know about you all, but I didn’t get a very good warm feeling in terms of the immediate reaction of the president or the speaker in terms of coming to an end of this dispute in Washington,” DeLeo said.

The Winthrop Democrat endorsed what he said was good legislation worked on by Rep. Natalie Blais and Sen. Joanne Comerford, two freshmen Democrats.

In the midst of the shutdown last Thursday, the House passed a resolve originally filed by the two of them that would create a nine-member, bipartisan task force to investigate the impact of the shutdown and develop a response plan that “prioritizes the continuation of services for its residents and communities.”

“I don’t think we can leave here today saying ‘OK, this is an issue, which is gone. It’s finished. We don’t have to worry about it.’ I was hoping that might be the answer, but I can’t say it is,” said DeLeo, who said he spoke in favor of the bill during the leadership meeting.

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Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

Spilka said she supports the three branches of state government working together to help Massachusetts federal workers from experiencing financial pain if another federal shutdown occurs.

The governor said there was agreement between himself, DeLeo, and Spilka on at least one major aspect of the federal shutdown.

“We would really like to see the feds come to an agreement and fund the government the same way we do here in Massachusetts,” said Baker, who filed his annual state budget last week.