BOSTON (AP) — Republican Gov. Charlie Baker says his administration is exploring ways to offer state unemployment benefits to federal workers and contractors who are not being paid because of the partial federal government shutdown.
Baker said there are about 47,000 federal employees in Massachusetts, many of whom have been furloughed and are going without pay. Thousands of contractors are in the same position.
Baker said Monday after a meeting with state Democratic legislative leaders that there are challenges to offering unemployment benefits to federal workers caught up in the shutdown — including how to charge the federal government for the cost of helping out their workers who aren't being paid through no fault of their own.
Baker also had harsh words for all involved in the impasse saying they are "scaring the bejesus out of a lot of people about whether or not they are going to be able to pay their rent or their mortgage or buy food."
Baker said it's time for federal lawmakers and the president to reopen the government.
"My pox is on all the houses down there," he said. "They should all get together and deal with it and if that means people don't get exactly what they want well welcome to government and welcome to life in the public sector. But this should not be this hard to solve."
There are other challenges to offering unemployment benefits to federal workers who are still working, but not getting paid, since they don't fall into traditional categories of workers who receive the benefits.
The state may have to take the step of appropriating money from state coffers to offer the benefits — knowing that at any moment the government could re-open.
On its website, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management suggests workers effected by the shutdown contact officials in the state where they are working to ask about the availability of state unemployment benefits.
Baker said his other top concern is making sure those receiving benefits through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP aren't left without help.
He said the state has been told that there should be enough money to continue funding the program — which offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families — through the end of February.
The shutdown has hit day 24, with President Donald trump continuing to demand $5.7 billion for his long-promised wall, while Democrats, who oppose the wall, press Trump to re-open the government before they negotiate further border security.