OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday announced an expansion of unemployment benefits to federal employees working without pay in America's longest government shutdown.
Under the expansion, so-called "essential" workers being directed to work through the shutdown will be allowed to apply for a partial wage replacement backdated to the beginning of the shutdown.
Included in those ranks are employees of the Transportation Security Administration, the FBI, food inspectors and Coast Guard personnel.
The new expansion could help approximately half of Washington's roughly 16,000 federal workers who are not receiving paychecks, according to Inslee and state officials.
"This is most unfair and most egregious," Inslee said in a news conference. "There are nearly 16,000 Washingtonians who are about to lose a second paycheck as a result of this federal shutdown."
"It is the right thing to do," he added later.
Those remaining federal workers who have been furloughed and are not working have already been able to apply for unemployment benefits.
The new money is coming from the state's unemployment trust fund, and workers would have to repay the state once they receive their back pay for lost wages.
The average annual wage of the affected workers in Washington is about $82,000 per year, according to Suzi LeVine, commissioner of the state Economic Security Department.
"But many are below $50,000 a year," she said.
The maximum amount of weekly compensation unemployment benefits is $749 per week, said LeVine.
Inslee's announcement came the same afternoon that the U.S. Senate failed to pass two proposals that were intended to provide a path forward to reopen the government, a portion of which has now been shuttered for more than a month.