For Some Long-Term Unemployed, Jobless Benefits May Soon End
As millions of Americans can attest, job loss can be devastating -- especially if it lingers on and on. Three years ago, amid recession, Congress sought to lessen the pain by extending the period that the long-term unemployed could claim benefits to well beyond a year.
Come January, however, that provision is set to expire, meaning that those who lose their jobs starting next month will likely be eligible only for the standard 26 weeks of unemployment benefits.
"There's certainly uncertainty about what's going to be available to them," says Chad Stone, chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C., research organization focused on the low- and middle-income households.
The federal program, known as Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC), provides up to 34 weeks of additional payments of unemployment compensation to jobless workers in all states and up to 19 more weeks of payments to residents of states where unemployment remains high.
As it stands now, Stone says, only those who lose their jobs and become eligible for benefits by July 4 will be eligible for an additional 20 weeks of benefits should they exhaust their standard benefit before Jan. 3, 2012.
Given the political climate in Washington, it remains unclear whether Congress will act to renew the provisions. Following release of May's disappointing employment numbers earlier this month, President Obama said that he was interested in working with lawmakers to "continue some of these policies to make sure that we get this recovery up and running in a robust way."
It isn't only the federal government pulling back, however. Earlier this year, legislators in Missouri voted to reduce the number of weeks -- from 26 to 20 -- that unemployed workers can claim benefits. Michigan passed a similar law that goes into effect next year, and Illinois and Arkansas each have lopped off a week from their programs.
"For more than 50 years, every state in the nation has provided at least 26 weeks of unemployment insurance protections against the risk of involuntary job loss," says Christine Owens, executive director at the National Employment Law Project, a New York City-based nonprofit advocate for working-class Americans.
Cuts to state programs mean that unemployed workers in those states have less economic protection than workers laid off by the same company in other states, Owens says.
To some extent that's already true, since a portion of federally funded unemployment benefits are tied to a state's unemployment rate. Twenty-four states, for example, offer laid-off workers up to 99 weeks of benefits because their unemployment rate is at least 8.5 percent -- through a combination of state benefits, EUC benefits and another federal program known as Extended Benefits, or EB.
But five states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Delaware and New Hampshire) only offer up to 60 weeks of payments because their overall jobless rates are under 6 percent.
Though many face the potential loss of benefits, in states such as Arizona, some long-term unemployed already have seen their payments end. They include Joan Miller, a 58-year-old former fundraiser who received her last unemployment check last week.
Miller, who lost her job nearly two years ago and estimates that she's applied for 20 jobs a week since then, resorted to selling lemons plucked from a friend's lemon tree to raise cash. "I'm appalled to find myself in this situation," Miller told Bloomberg News.
Unfortunately for Miller and many like her, a majority of Arizona's lawmakers voted earlier this month not to extend jobless aid to the long-term unemployed -- even though the funds, provided by the federal government, didn't cost the state a penny.
State Sen. Ron Gould, a Republican from Lake Havasu City, told the news agency that people are more driven to find work when benefits are cut off.
"You have to get back to where everybody is responsible for themselves, instead of everyone depending on government to take care of them," Gould said.
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