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Furloughed federal workers must return unemployment pay

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Most federal employees who filed for unemployment compensation while they were furloughed are being asked to pay that money back, now that Congress and President Obama have agreed to pay all of those workers for their time off.

Beginning after Oct. 1, when the shutdown started, applications for unemployment compensation flowed in across the country. That included thousands in Maryland, the District and Virginia, which have a particularly high concentration of federal employees.

And despite the relatively short 16-day shutdown, at least some employees have already gotten unemployment money.

D.C. officials said they paid 1,700 furloughed workers already. Virginia said it had at least 6,000 applicants and Maryland reported about 20,000 claims, though both states were still checking to see how many of those claims had begun to receive payments.

But with the shutdown over and Congress' decision to pay furloughed workers for their time off, the states are now asking for the money back.

"Benefit overpayments should be repaid as soon as possible, and payment plans can be arranged. Interest on the debt can be negotiated," said Maureen O'Connor, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

That's not true everywhere. Fox News reported that Oregon is letting workers keep their unemployment benefits, meaning they'd getting paid twice for time they never worked.

Several other states have similar laws.

The federal Labor Department is preparing to issue guidance to those states that do reclaim the money, and Ms. O'Connor said Maryland is waiting on those guidelines before finalizing its own procedures.

Joyce Fogg, spokeswoman for the Virginia Employment Commission, said the agency will be able to track down federal employees who got benefits.

"We know — it's like any other overpayment," she said. "They'll be notified by letter that this is an overpayment and they'll have to repay it."

Workers likely only got a single payment, at most, since there's a one-week waiting period at the beginning and the shutdown lasted little more than two weeks. Ms. Fogg said it should be relatively easy to repay, since the maximum amount a Virginia worker got was $370.

Maryland said its unemployment benefits are paid by debit card while Virginia pays by card or direct deposit.

Maryland said it cannot recapture funds from its debit card once they are loaded on there. Officials in Virginia and the District said as long as workers didn't touch the money, they can retract it.

The District gives workers 60 days to pay the money back by check or money order or to establish a repayment plan. After six months, the city has the ability to garnish wages.

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