Tuesday, May 29, 2012

U.S. Winds Down Longer Benefits for the Unemployed

CNBC
May 29, 2012



Hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Americans are receiving their final unemployment checks sooner than they expected, even though Congress renewed extended benefits until the end of the year.

Susan Trigg | Getty Images

The checks are stopping for the people who have the most difficulty finding work: thelong-term unemployed. More than five million people have been out of work for longer than half a year. Federal benefit extensions, which supplemented state funds for payments up to 99 weeks, were intended to tide over the unemployed until the job marketimproved.

In February, when the program was set to expire, Congress renewed it, but also phased in a reduction of the number of weeks of extended aid and effectively made it more difficult for states to qualify for the maximum aid. Since then, the jobless in 23 states have lost up to five months’ worth of benefits.

Next month, an additional 70,000 people will lose benefits earlier than they presumed, bringing the number of people cut off prematurely this year to close to half a million, according to the National Employment Law Project. That estimate does not include people who simply exhausted the weeks of benefits they were entitled to.

Separate from the Congressional action, some states are making it harder to qualify for the first few months of benefits, which are covered by taxes on employers. Florida, where the jobless rate is 8.7 percent, has cut the number of weeks it will pay and changed its application procedures, with more than half of all applicants now being denied.

The federal extension of jobless benefits has been a contentious issue in Washington. Republicans worry that it prolongs joblessness and say it has not kept the unemployment rate down, while Democrats argue that those out of work have few alternatives and that the checks are one of the most effective forms of stimulus, since most of it is spent immediately.

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