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Furloughed U.S. Workers Searching for Unemployment Insurance Left With Phone Ringing

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Good luck furloughed government employees when trying to navigate the path to collecting unemployment insurance.

As the government shutdown enters its ninth day, furloughed employees are taking to extreme measures to pay their bills as they wait to receive back pay whenever the government reopens.

It may be worth applying for federal and state unemployment benefits, but those government employees may have to return what they collect. In addition, many furloughed employees may be too confused about how to receive the insurance in the first place.

The federal guidelines aren't decisive. The U.S. Office of Personal Management (OPM) links to a 30-page document that offers guidance for shutdown furloughs, but the section on whether employees are entitled to compensation while on furlough leaves the answer open for discussion.

It is possible that furloughed employees may become eligible for unemployment compensation.

It's a brief statement that provides little more explanation or direction. For employees looking for more information, they may try to contact the Department of Labor's national toll-free contact center. That hotline, though, doesn't provide much help.

"This Department of Labor national contact center general information and referral service is temporarily unavailable due to the suspension of federal government services," a recording said.

A return to the OPM's unemployment compensation section reveals a much longer explanation of how individuals can handle state benefits.

State unemployment compensation requirements differ. Some States require a 1-week waiting period before an individual qualifies for payments. In general, the law of the State in which an employee's last official duty station in Federal civilian service was located will be the State law that determines eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits.

State unemployment offices have continued to operate through the shutdown.

When asked about qualifications for federal employment, New York Labor Department spokesman Chris White said: "Anyone who believes they might be eligible for unemployment insurance should file a claim and Department of Labor representatives will determine if they are eligible."

The Virginia Employment Commission said in its document about unemployment compensation for federal employees indicates individuals must repay employment benefits received during the time of the furlough.

For furloughed employees seeking more information about state-by-state benefits, they can simply go to http://www.servicelocator.org/OWSLinks.asp and click on the map. But it may be a cruel process for anyone seeking more information about federal unemployment benefits.

The phone is still ringing.

-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.

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