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Gov. Gavin Newsom offers unemployment benefits to TSA workers, defying Trump administration

Gov. Gavin Newsom offers unemployment benefits to TSA workers, defying Trump administration
Gov. Gavin Newsom says California will offer unemployment benefits to federal employees working without pay after meeting with TSA workers at Sacramento International Airport on Thursday. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

In a public display of defiance, Gov. Gavin Newsom encouraged Transportation Security Administration employees to apply for unemployment insurance through the state after the Trump administration warned California that the workers are ineligible for the benefits during the federal shutdown.

“The good news is, we’re going to do it and shame on them,” Newsom said to TSA workers gathered at a hastily planned event at Sacramento International Airport on Thursday. “They are, in essence, threatening us for doing what we’re doing.”

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The latest dust-up between California and the Trump administration happened after the Department of Labor sent an email this week warning the state that federal employees who continue to work during the government shutdown cannot apply for benefits, according to the governor’s office.

A standoff between President Trump and new Democratic leadership in the House has led to the longest shutdown in U.S. history. Trump refuses to sign spending bills unless he receives $5 billion for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Since 1954, federal workers have been able to apply for unemployment insurance benefits through the state if they become unemployed or their hours are reduced through no fault of their own, according to the California Employment Development Department.

Newsom first advised furloughed federal workers to apply to the program during a news conference last week to unveil his 2019-20 budget.

The state has said 779 federal workers applied for unemployment insurance benefits in the first week of the shutdown, marking a 200% increase from the same period the previous year. Under the system, states bill the federal government for the unemployment benefits provided to eligible federal workers. Weekly payments max out at about $450 a week, which workers must repay after the shutdown ends.

The email from the Labor Department, sent to California, Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Washington and Arizona on Wednesday, cited an October 2013 memo that said “excepted” employees who continue to work full-time during a shutdown may not be eligible for unemployment benefits if states determine they are still fully employed. It included two additional memos that provided guidance on the mechanics of the benefits in regard to the 2013 federal shutdown, which lasted 16 days.

Some 53,000 TSA agents are considered essential federal employees who must continue to work unpaid through the shutdown. At least 40,000 federal workers in California have been furloughed since Dec. 22.

Emotional TSA workers explained to the governor the hardships of working without a paycheck: unpaid rent, no ability to cover childcare expenses and late mortgage payments.

Miguel Pagarigan, 48, said he worked more than 60 hours during the first week of the shutdown. The Vacaville resident had been struggling to make mortgage payments before he lost his paycheck and the shutdown forced him to put his house on the market, he said. Pagarigan said he’s moving his wife and four children into a home with his father.

“The hole got deeper and deeper over the summer,” Pagarigan said. “When your paycheck is ripped away from you, there’s not a lot you can do.”

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