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Furloughed Workers Must Repay Unemployment

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Illinois is continuing to deal with the effects of the federal government shutdown. The state agency that handles unemployment says hundreds of laid-off federal workers have to pay back their benefits.

During the shutdown, the Illinois Department of Employment Security had a significant spike in calls from laid off federal workers. A few thousand applied for benefits, and 577 ultimately collected money.

"Yeah, this is absolutely within their rights to do this," says department Director Jay Rowell. "I mean, they lost their jobs through no fault of their own, so they're entitled to these unemployment insurance benefits."

But this is an unusual situation — not only are they back on the job, but they've gotten back wages for the time they weren't working. Rowell says that almost never happens to people who collect unemployment.

"You have these 577 people who are getting a paycheck now for that time when they got unemployment insurance benefits, so that's why we're asking them to pay it back," he says.

Rowell says if anyone doesn't comply voluntarily, the state can garnish their tax returns. All told the benefits paid to federal workers during the shutdown total $231,174.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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