Jobless benefits ending for some

More than 1,000 idled Idaho workers will lose their unemployment benefits next week unless Congress extends a federal program implemented two years ago to help sustain U.S. workers during the recession.

Checks to another 14,000 Idahoans will stop going out by May 1, said Bob Fick, spokesman for the state Department of Labor.

He said 37,000 Idaho workers received a total of $10 million in benefits last week.

? Many in Washington also will stop receiving checks, but up to 20 weeks of state-funded extended benefits will maintain incomes, at least temporarily, for some of the more than 223,000 on the unemployment rolls in October.

About 25,500 Washington residents – 1,579 in Spokane County – have been jobless for more than 99 weeks and no longer qualify for any unemployment program.

“It’s got to be a horrible feeling if you can’t find a job,” said Washington Employment Security Department spokesman Jamie Swift.

The U.S. House last Thursday voted down an extension of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which provides up to 53 weeks of benefits, plus a $25-per-week supplement to regular benefits. Washington Employment Security Commissioner Paul Trause noted that the House has renewed the program at the last minute as earlier deadlines loomed, but he added, “It doesn’t look like there will be another save this time.

“As a result, thousands of unemployed workers will find their benefits ending sooner than they expected.”

How soon differs between Idaho and Washington.

The federal emergency benefits are staged in four tiers that begin after the unemployed use up regular state benefits of 10 to 26 weeks in duration. In all but a few states with low unemployment, workers who tap all the benefits available in one tier step to the next until, after 53 weeks, they no longer qualify.

If the emergency program is terminated, workers will no longer be able to advance to a new tier. And if they have not yet advanced to tier 1 from regular state benefits, they cannot enter the program.

Jobless Idaho residents who exhausted their regular or emergency benefits by Friday will not qualify for any additional help after Dec. 4. But those who worked part time and cached some of their weekly benefits – the maximum is $334 – can continue to draw down their balance, Fick said.

He said a third stage of payments, up to 20 weeks in extended benefits, is not available because the share of workers drawing unemployment is below the threshold set by Idaho law. If the number of jobless workers increases, as it did in October, “we could trigger again,” he said.

Fick said Idaho workers can call their Department of Labor consultant to find out how much in benefits they have left on their unemployment claim.

Washington law establishes three triggers that allow up to the maximum 20 weeks of extended benefits. With the state unemployment rate at 9.1 percent, all three triggers have been pulled.

But with the emergency program closed to anyone opening an unemployment claim after Saturday, the regular and extended benefits will allow only 46 weeks of payments instead of the 99 weeks available today.

Swift said the state should be able to tell workers how many more weeks of benefits they have left on their claims after technicians complete installation of the necessary software over the four-day Thanksgiving holiday.

The information will be mailed to claimants, he said.

About 100,000 Washington unemployed are getting emergency benefits, Swift said, and another 20,000 receive extended benefits.

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