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60,000 set to lose jobless benefits in Washington

OLYMPIA (Dec. 4, 2012) — As the national media focuses on the “fiscal cliff” debt reduction negotiations under way between the White House and the lame-duck Congress, little attention is being paid to some 2 million long-term unemployed workers whose benefits will expire if Congress fails to renew them. Up to 60,000 people here in Washington state will be shut off of unemployment benefits when the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program ends on Dec. 29.

Since being activated in July 2008, the program has paid more than $5.6 billion in federally funded unemployment benefits to more than 407,000 jobless workers in this state, according to the state’s Employment Security Department.

During much of the recession, most unemployed workers could qualify for up to 99 weeks of benefits, including 26 weeks of regular benefits, 53 weeks of emergency unemployment compensation (EUC) and 20 weeks of extended benefits — paid in that order.

Due to the state’s improved unemployment rate, extended benefits shut off last April, and congressional action has reduced EUC benefits to a maximum of 37 weeks. After Dec. 29, only regular benefits will be available for most Washington workers.

Although Congress has extended the EUC program 10 times in the past four years, there’s currently no indication it will be reauthorized again. As part of “fiscal cliff” negotiations, President Obama has proposed extending the EUC program as part of a short-term economic stimulus plan, but Congressional Republicans have opposed that extension.

Extending the current level of long-term unemployment benefits for another year would add 300,000 jobs to the economy, according to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office. The analysis released last week from the nonpartisan office estimates that keeping jobless benefits would cost the government $30 billion. But it would also lead to more spending by the unemployed, boosting demand for goods and services and creating new jobs.

If Congress and the President approve another extension, the state Employment Security will automatically notify anyone who claimed EUC during one or more weeks in December.

Over the next few weeks, Employment Security will send emails, robocalls and direct mail to recipients reminding them the program is ending. The messages also will urge the workers to contact their local WorkSource office for assistance in finding work. WorkSource offers a variety of workshops, skill assessments, online courses, job counseling and other services aimed at helping job seekers find work.

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