Politics

December 18, 2013

Thousands of Mainers face loss of jobless aid

Extended benefits have been a lifeline for those looking for work during the slow recovery from recession, but Congress is about to let them expire.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

As many as 3,300 Mainers could lose a key source of income – if not their only source – during the holidays because Congress has not extended a long-term unemployment program.

click image to enlarge

In this Tuesday, July 2012 file photo, people mingle with recruiters at a jobs fair. As many as 3,300 Mainers could lose a key source of income – if not their only source – during the holidays because Congress has not extended a long-term unemployment program.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

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Mainers collecting long-term benefits are among the 1.3 million Americans who will no longer receive checks averaging $270 per week when the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program expires Dec. 28.

The state does not track demographic data of people in the program, which was started by President George W. Bush at the onset of the Great Recession, but national statistics show a high percentage of those who are unemployed for longer than 27 weeks are working families or single parents. Additionally, people ages 56 to 65 are disproportionately affected by long-term joblessness.

Advocates for the unemployed and conservative policy groups have jointly called for an extension of the program over the past several weeks, saying it is a lifeline for people who lost their jobs during the recession, and that the benefit may allow people to get jobs commensurate with their education and training.

Despite agreement at both ends of the ideological spectrum, Congress opted not to extend the program in the bipartisan budget deal that may win final passage as soon as Wednesday. It’s unlikely to pass as a standalone measure before the end of the year.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has indicated that reauthorizing the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program is a priority, but the Republican-controlled House has adjourned for the Christmas holiday so the program is likely to expire Dec. 28.

MILLIONS OF LONG-TERM UNEMPLOYED

Mitchell Hirsch of the National Employment Law Project in New York City, an advocate for unemployed workers, said Tuesday that it’s “unconscionable” to let the program lapse.

“To have this just shut off is going to have devastating consequences on the people receiving these benefits in Maine,” Hirsch said. “It’s not just on Mainers, but hundreds of thousands of people and the millions of people in their families across the country.”

According to the Maine Bureau of Unemployment Compensation, 551 people in Cumberland County stand to lose jobless benefits. The bureau says 417 people in York County will go without benefits, as will 309 in Androscoggin County and 377 in Penobscot County.

Advocates of the program say it’s an essential tool to offset the effects of the Great Recession, which put millions of Americans out of work and kept many of them there for an extended period.

Although the official end of the recession was declared in June 2009, the job recovery has been slow. According to data compiled by the liberal-leaning Urban Institute, more than 4.7 million workers – 39 percent of all unemployed – were actively searching for jobs for 27 weeks or longer through December 2012.

A graphic produced by the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and promoted by a policy analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, showed that the long-term unemployment rate is above 2.5 percent, nearly twice the rate when Congress ended a similar program after the 1990-91 recession.

MANY QUESTIONS FROM BENEFICIARIES

Extended unemployment benefits are designed to buttress the traditional unemployment program, which is capped at 26 weeks. The extended program enacted by Bush and reauthorized twice by Congress delivers more payments to states with higher rates of unemployment.

In states with unemployment rates at or above 9 percent, workers can collect as many as 73 weeks of benefits. States with unemployment rates between 6 percent and 8.9 percent lose access to 10 weeks of benefits, and those with rates below 6 percent lose 14 weeks.

Maine had an unemployment rate of 6.7 percent in October.

(Continued on page 2)

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