Federal cuts are about to hit unemployed in Washington

OLYMPIA (May 13, 2013) — The federal “sequester” budget cuts are about to kick 41,000 Washington residents and their families while they are down.

The Employment Security Department just announced that, due to sequester cuts, unemployment benefits will be reduced by more than 21% for Washington residents receiving federally funded extended benefits. The cuts will begin taking effect the week of May 19-25.

“That’s a pretty big hit to absorb for families who’ve lost their incomes through no fault of their own,” said Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “Losing $30 to $80 per week will make it significantly harder for these struggling families to stay in their homes and keep food on their tables.”

The sequester cuts were automatic reductions of about $85.4 billion in federal spending for the current fiscal year. Intended as a “doomsday” scenario to force Republicans and Democrats in Congress to reach a budget agreement by the end of 2012, the cuts were implemented when no agreement could be reached.

Sequester cuts are costing Washington State thousands of civilian defense jobs at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, plus environmental cleanup and construction jobs at Hanford nuclear reservation. Workers at those facilities, plus many other federal employees who provide critical services like directing air traffic, safeguarding our environment and providing homeland security, all face sequester pay cuts in the form of unpaid furloughs.

“It is absolutely shameful that Congress continues to hamper economic growth and impose hardship on middle-class and low-income families rather than insisting that big corporations and the wealthiest 2% pay their fair share,” Johnson said.

BACKGROUND — Workers who have been laid off or lost their jobs through no fault of their own can collect up to 26 weeks of state-funded unemployment benefits while they are looking for a new job. After that, workers can receive extended federally funded unemployment benefits through the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program. Currently in Washington State, workers can receive up to 37 additional weeks of EUC benefits.

The U.S. Department of Labor has provided instructions on how much each state must cut from EUC during the final six months of the federal fiscal year — April 1-Sept. 30, 2013. In order to achieve those cuts, ESD will be forced to reduce the weekly EUC checks by 21.08% per recipient.

For example, if an individual currently has a weekly benefit amount of $357, their check will be reduced to $281. Also, since EUC is a federal program, the sequester law takes priority over the minimum weekly benefit established in state law. That means anyone currently receiving the state’s minimum weekly benefit of $143 will be reduced to $112.

Depending on what “tier” of benefits that recipients are on, those cuts could happen immediately the week of May 19-25 or in subsequent weeks, depending on when they advance from one tier to the next. Employment Security is using email, robocalls and direct mail to try to notify claimants when they will be affected.

GET ASSISTANCE — If you are a claimant with questions about how and when this will affect you, submit questions through ESD’s website and claims staff will respond by email. You can also call Employment Security’s EUC claims center toll-free at 877-558-8509 . However, due to staff reductions and high call volumes, it may take multiple attempts to reach an agent.

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