Defying Trump Administration, Calif. Offers Federal Workers Unemployment Benefits

Originally published on January 19, 2019 12:21 pm

California Gov. Gavin Newsom says the Trump administration has told states they can't offer unemployment benefits to federal employees who are required to report to work without pay during the government shutdown.

Newsom called a letter sent to states by the U.S. Department of Labor "jaw-dropping and extraordinary" as he met with TSA workers at the Sacramento International Airport Thursday afternoon. "So, the good news is, we're going to do it, and shame on them."

The governor explained that California will offer the workers unemployment coverage, despite the federal government telling the state it can't do so for workers still on the job. Newsom says he believes California is on strong legal footing.

Transportation Security Administration employee Miguel Pagarigan, who commutes about 40 miles from Vacaville, Calif. each day, said he's not sure how long he can afford to go without pay as the shutdown continues.

"Because of the shutdown and being furloughed — or basically, not being paid — I had to put a 'for sale' sign on my house on Sunday," Pagarigan said, beginning to cry as he spoke.

The Trump administration does not appear to be opposing unemployment benefits for federal workers who are staying home during the shutdown.

Newsom's appearance follows a protest by two dozen federal workers at the airport Wednesday.

Phil Miedema, a 68-year-old federal employee, said he was supposed to retire in December but the shutdown held up his paperwork.

"I'm not spending money," Miedema said. "In fact I was I was concerned just driving out here wasting the gas and have to pay for parking so I could have my voice heard. My lifestyle is just on total hold."

Miedema said he has one month's savings and after that he'll have to take out a loan to pay next month's bills.

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The Trump administration has told states to not offer unemployment benefits to federal employees who are working without pay during the government shutdown. At least three states, including Colorado, New Mexico and California, are defying the order. In Sacramento, Capital Public Radio's Ben Adler has more.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Ground transportation and all airport shuttles...

BEN ADLER, BYLINE: At the Sacramento International Airport Thursday afternoon, TSA workers gathered out of uniform to tell California Governor Gavin Newsom how the federal government shutdown has affected them. Here are Rebecca Kane of Sacramento and Miguel Pagarigan, who commutes an hour from Vacaville each day.

REBECCA KANE: Today, I visited a food bank for the first time in my life, and they were awesome, but I'm working. I want to work.

GAVIN NEWSOM: Right.

KANE: I just want to be paid for what I do.

MIGUEL PAGARIGAN: Because of the shutdown and basically not getting paid, I had to put a for-sale sign on my house on Sunday.

ADLER: TSA workers are among the more than 400,000 federal employees who are working without pay. Newsom criticized the U.S. Department of Labor for saying that because they're working, states can't give them unemployment aid.

NEWSOM: Which is so jaw-dropping and extraordinary.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: That's not right. That's not right.

NEWSOM: Yeah, all right. So the good news is we're going to do it and shame on them.

ADLER: The 380,000 federal employees staying home during the shutdown are eligible for unemployment aid. Jim Nielsen, the top Republican on the state Senate's budget committee, says he respects that Newsom is acting from the goodness of his heart. But he cautions...

JIM NIELSEN: If we start doing too many things California alone, making it our burden and responsibility, it's going to make some real problems in the future for California.

ADLER: In other words, Nielsen added, go ahead this time, but don't make a habit of it. For NPR News, I'm Ben Adler in Sacramento. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.