Loophole eases furlough pinch

By Dan Lothian, CNN

The object of furloughs is to save the government money, but for every day that workers take  off, that means cash out of their pockets.

Some employees have found a loop hole to help them get by.

With looming furloughs stressing federal workers, some are turning to unemployment benefits to help balance their checkbooks.

"I can't afford to give anymore. I don't have it," said Alicia St. John, a federal employee facing furlough.

St. John, a civilian electrician at a Philadelphia Navy yard, says pay freezes and family obligations have drained her bank account, and now budget cuts are squeezing her last dime.

"They don't ' feel the effects of losing a hundred dollars," St. John said. "It makes or breaks my day, my month, my year. Every cent counts for us."

"Congress and the White House failed to reach a deal and the federal employees are the whipping boys," said Greg Junemann, International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers President.

Unemployment benefits were not an option, because the eleven days St. John will be forced to give up are scattered throughout the summer.

But now her union has negotiated a deal with her employer that will allow her to take the days in one week blocks and thereby qualify for unemployment.

"You'll get something. You'll still have your wages cut but not as dramatically," Junemann said.

St. John  stands to lose $1,400. She'll get back $500 if she collects unemployment, money that is paid out by the state but would be paid back by the federal government.

But this practice is raising eyebrows.

"Making arrangements to receive unemployment benefits seems to defeat the purpose of sequestration.," said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.

The U.S. Labor Department has all but endorsed this practice providing guidance on its web site: "While on furlough, federal employees may become eligible for unemployment benefits under the unemployment compensation for federal employees program."

It wasn't supposed to come down to this, but sequestration kicked in and Washington is still talking about ending it.

"I'll keep fighting to end those foolish across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester."

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