Deadline looms for federal unemployment benefits

Dayton Daily News - November 7, 2012

Congress has until Dec. 29 to continue helping jobless Ohioans

The clock is ticking on tens of thousands of Ohioans receiving federally paid unemployment compensation benefits, which will be cut off at the end of the year unless Congress acts to reauthorize them.

So far this year, federal programs have paid out more than $780 million to unemployed Ohioans, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. But more than 150,000 Ohioans will either exhaust those benefits or no longer qualify for federal benefits at the end of the year without government intervention, the jobs department calculates.

The results will be “immediate and negative,” resulting in less spending and slower economic growth throughout the state, said Zach Schiller, research director for Policy Matters Ohio, a Cleveland-based think-tank.

“Unemployment insurance gives people income that they would not otherwise have, and it allows them to continue to make expenditures that ripple throughout the community,” Schiller said. “The money is spent, not saved. And it helps those that are most affected by a weak economy.”

Beginning in 2009, displaced workers could receive up to 99 weeks of aid through a combination of state benefits — which still last for 26 weeks in Ohio — and federal Extended Benefits and Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs. Earlier this year, Congress voted to reduce gradually the maximum duration of benefits as the economy improved and end federal benefits on Dec. 29.

So far, lawmakers shown no indication they plan to restore the programs, even though unemployment remains painfully high at 7.9 percent nationally and 7 percent in Ohio.

“We don’t have a thriving economy here in Ohio,” Schiller said. “We may think that because the unemployment rate has dropped to 7 percent (in September from 8.6 percent a year earlier). But that’s still a historically high rate of unemployment.”

And while some economists have predicted that ending the federal benefits programs could drive down unemployment by forcing workers to accept jobs they would not take if they were still receiving benefits, Schiller said the vast majority of those workers will simply turn to social service agencies and food shelves for help because there simply are not enough jobs to go around.

Last year, unemployment compensation kept 2.3 million people from falling into poverty in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Deadline looms for federal unemployment benefits

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