Emergency Unemployment Extension Delayed But Still Possible

Despite the upcoming midterm elections, the launch of Obamacare on January 1, and significant changes to marriage and marijuana laws, one of the biggest news story out of Washington this month has been Congress’ failure to extend Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) benefits. On January 1, 2014, this emergency cushion put in to place to help the long-term unemployed survive while looking for a new job expired. Efforts to pass an unemployment extension have been unsuccessful. It appears that neither of the current unemployment bills will be on the Senate’s agenda until senators return from recess next week, which means no extension until January 27, at the soonest.

The EUC program was enacted by Congress in June 2008 in response to the fiscal crisis to help workers who were laid off and unable to find employment after exhausting the 26 weeks of unemployment benefits available in most states. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor counted 2.6 million jobs lost.

The EUC program allowed for individuals to apply for additional weeks of benefits after exhaustion of state benefits and has continued—with some modifications as the economy slowly picked up—because of continued high unemployment rates. At the peak of the program, unemployment benefits lasted for 99 weeks in most states, but as the economy slowly grew and the unemployment rate fell, the number of potential weeks of benefits also fell. At the end of 2013, unemployed workers were eligible for 73 weeks of benefits in states with more than 9% unemployed and 63 weeks of benefits in states with more than 7% unemployed.

Estimates are that 1.3 million unemployed workers nationwide, including roughly 262,500 Pennsylvanians, lost their benefits on December 31, 2013. An additional 1.9 million Americans are expected to need this benefit in the first half of 2014, but will be unable to receive it unless Congress acts to renew the program.

Unemployment compensation plays an important role in our society and offers people who lose their job through no fault of their own a small cushion to help them as they attempt to secure their next job. The job market is better than it was in 2008, but finding a new job is still taking many unemployed workers much longer than the 26 weeks they now have before state unemployment benefits run out.

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