Approximately 43,000 individuals now receiving unemployment benefits could lose them on Dec. 29, unless Congress reauthorizes the program.
Connecticut, like most states, provides 26 weeks of unemployment insurance but also counts on the federal government to fund an emergency extension of benefits during times of slow job growth. It will cost $30 billion to keep the program going.
“These federal benefits are providing a lifeline to many of our residents who are trying to make ends meet while looking for work,” Labor Commissioner Sharon M. Palmer said. “If Congress does reauthorize these benefits, the agency will be better poised to respond quickly to possible new program requirements — thus minimizing potential disruptions or delays in issuing UI payments.”
An additional 50,000 individuals are currently collecting under the state benefits program, and would not be able to collect beyond the 26 weeks that this program provides. If Congress fails to act, any newly unemployed person would only be eligible to collect 26 weeks of unemployment benefits.
At the height of the recession, Connecticut residents were eligible for 99 weeks, but as the unemployment rate has dropped so has the number of weeks unemployment benefits are paid. Connecticut residents had been eligible for 63 weeks of unemployment before Dec. 15 when the unemployment rate increased, triggering an additional 10 weeks. However, the length of eligibility for unemployment benefits drops to 26 weeks if Congress fails to extend the benefits.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, it will cost $30 billion to extend federal unemployment benefits by another year. That’s just a small portion of the $7 trillion in tax increases and spending cuts that will take effect if Congress goes over the fiscal cliff.
“Although the jobs picture is beginning to show some improvement, finding new employment continues to be a challenge,” Palmer noted. “These additional weeks of federal benefits would give unemployed residents the extra support they need as we continue to recover from this recession.”
The National Employment Law Project reported this month that 2 million people could be kicked off their benefits if Congress fails to extend them.
“Unemployed workers number 12 million; yet, less than half currently receive federal or state unemployment insurance,” a National Employment Law Project fact sheet states. “If EUC is not reauthorized, nearly five million individuals who have been searching for work the longest will not qualify for any form of unemployment insurance, leaving only one in four unemployed workers protected by the system.”
In the meantime, Palmer’s agency is asking individuals currently receiving benefits to continue to file. Those individuals who are in danger of losing their benefits have been notified by the Department of Labor, and they will be notified again if Congress decides to reauthorize the benefits.
In May, the Department of Labor, Department of Social Services, United Way 211, Connecticut’s five Workforce Investment boards, and Community Action Agencies teamed up to develop a strategy to deal with the possibility that the long-term unemployed would soon lose their benefits.
The goal of the program is to help those who may lose their benefits gain access to social services and job training programs to put them back on a path toward employment. Those seeking to access services should call 2-1-1.