A rally to stop the shutdown in the Senate building on Capitol Hill on January 23, 2019. 

In the past month, federal employees who were sent home have been eligible for state unemployment benefits. But those forced to work—without pay—are out of luck. 

Washington state is changing that. Governor Jay Inslee on Thursday announced the state is extending unemployment benefits to federal workers required to be on the job without paychecks during the federal government shutdown. 

"I'm proud that we're taking this action to protect all of the federal workers who have been affected by this," said Suzi LeVine, commissioner of the Employment Security Department. "This is the compassionate and responsible thing to do." 

Inslee estimated that the state has 16,000 federal workers, about half of whom had been deemed essential personnel and weren't eligible for state unemployment relief. That includes FBI and TSA agents, Coast Guard employees, and food safety inspectors. 

The governor said workers across the state shared stories of how the federal shutdown had impacted them—those unable to receive maternity leave benefits, retire, or pay for the gas they needed to drive for their job. 

Inslee's following the steps taken by other governors from California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Vermont.

Individual agencies and companies have also been offering assistance to federal workers struggling to make ends meet. Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan on Tuesday also announced that the city's allowing federal workers to defer utility payments until they get paid. 

The workers receiving state unemployment benefits will be required to return the money once they receive back pay, Inslee said. 

"The federal government sadly has failed these workers, so Washington is stepping up," Inslee said at a press conference Thursday. "It is unconscionable that the president of the United States has turned his federal workers into political pawns." 

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