Despite Congress extending long term unemployment benefit programs in February, thousands of unemployed people in eight states saw their benefits come to an end prematurely in May. Benefit recipients in 15 other states suffered the same fate in April. Thousands more are poised to follow in June.
Nearly half a million stranded
In April, extended unemployment benefits were discontinued in 15 states, including Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and South Carolina. The same thing happened in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas on May 12. According to the National Employment Law Project, an additional 70,000 are poised to lose their benefits prematurely in June. At that point, nearly half a million people will have seen their benefits axed earlier than they were told they would be.
Benefits extended in February
The federal governments extended state unemployment benefits by up to 99 weeks after the bubble burst on the nation’s economy in 2008. That allowed an additional two years of benefits to those awarded the normal 26 weeks. Those extensions, however, ended in February. The White House proposed to further extend the benefits, prompting its requisite fight with Congressional Republicans.
Finally, an agreement was reached and the extension was signed. But only after the White House had to concede some changes in how the states qualify for those extensions. Also, it reduced the maximum number of weeks that benefits can be extended.
Now, to determine a state’s eligibility for extended benefits, it must have an average three months unemployment figures that is 110 percent of what it was three years before.
Hannah Shaw, a researcher at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, wrote:
“Benefits have ended not because economic conditions have improved, but because they have not significantly deteriorated in the past three years.”
‘Moving in the wrong direction’
Unemployment reached a height of 9.9 percent in November, 2009. Currently, it has fallen to 8.1 percent across the nation, still far higher than what it needs to be for a healthy economy.
Chad Stone of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said that Congress has never before restricted extended benefits when unemployment numbers have been so high:
“It’s moving in the wrong direction, and it’s occurring at a time when unemployment is very high.”