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Maryland House advances bill to provide state loans to unpaid federal workers during government shutdowns

The House of Delegates approved a bill Thursday that calls for establishing a fund to pay federal employees in Maryland who are forced to work without compensation during a U.S. government shutdown.

Typically, employees who must work without pay aren’t allowed to receive unemployment benefits because they are not available to work another job. The federal government also won’t pay into the state’s unemployment system for those workers.

An estimated 172,000 Marylanders were affected by the most recent government shutdown, including federal employees and contractors, according to the state comptroller’s office. Without pay, thousands of workers had to turn to food banks and other assistance.

Del. Jessica Feldmark’s bill would create the Federal Government Shutdown Employee Assistance Loan Fund. If there’s another shutdown, Maryland’s governor could fund the account to provide interest-free loans to employees working without pay.

The workers would have to pay the money back if they receive back pay once the government reopens.

The bill passed by a vote of 119-20 and the House chamber broke out into applause because the bill was Feldmark’s first successful piece of legislation.

“I saw a need and I wanted to step in,” said Feldmark, a Democrat who represents parts of Howard and Baltimore counties. “I’m very grateful that my colleagues agreed that this is something that was unfair and needed to be corrected.”

The bill now moves to the state Senate for consideration.

The federal government was partially shut down for 35 days from late December through late January, as President Donald Trump and Congressional leaders battled over funding to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

About one-quarter of the federal government was affected, with about 800,000 employees forced to stay home or work without pay.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

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