MONTPELIER — About 650 Vermonters will lose extended unemployment benefits today after Congress opted not to continue the emergency program for the long-term unemployed before leaving Washington for the holidays.
The federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program set to expire has been funded entirely by federal dollars. The program was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008 when the national unemployment rate stood at 5.6 percent and the average term of unemployment was about 17 weeks.
Two years ago the EUC program was extended to Jan. 1, 2014, but its funding runs out today.
But Congress did not extend those benefits further in a budget deal signed into law recently by President Barack Obama, despite a current unemployment rate of 7 percent and an average unemployment length of about 36 weeks.
Annie Noonan, Vermont’s labor commissioner, said her department took steps early to notify affected Vermonters about the loss of benefits and provide information on where to seek help.
“At the point that they started saying this is not going to be extended … we put out notice,” she said.
Extended benefits had been provided for those who had already used up their 26 weeks of state-level jobless benefits. The federal compensation extended support for an additional 14 weeks.
Noonan said the department is continuing efforts to transition the state’s unemployed into new jobs. Each beneficiary’s case is being reviewed to identify other programs and training for which he or she may qualify, Noonan said.
“Otherwise, they’re going to wind up … in absolutely critical straits,” Noonan said.
The federal Workforce Investment Act provides funding for on-the-job training for low-income adults. Noonan said some of the state’s long-term unemployed who are set to lose benefits may be eligible.
And there are training programs for veterans that the department is explaining to those with military service.
“I don’t want to presume that people know that,” she said. “We’re going to go across the board and … take a look at who you are and what you might be eligible for.”
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats say the restoration of long-term federal benefits will be on the agenda when Congress reconvenes next month. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., have both called for extending the program.
“It is not only immoral to cut off help for workers struggling to find jobs, it is also bad economics,” Sanders said in a statement. “At a time when long-term unemployment is near a record level, cutting benefits will hurt the rest of the economy and cause even more jobs to disappear.”
Sanders, citing estimates by the Congressional Budget Office, said failing to extend the benefits — about $300 per week on average — would have a $25 billion impact on the economy in 2014. It could also result in the loss of 200,000 jobs and a 0.2 percent reduction in the nation’s gross domestic product, he said.
Leahy, like Sanders, is a co-sponsor of legislation to extend the emergency benefit program that will be taken up next month, said spokesman David Carle. Leahy expressed his disappointment that a bipartisan budget deal did not extend the benefits.
“It’s regrettable that House and Senate Republicans refused to include an extension of unemployment insurance benefits in the recent budget agreement,” Leahy said in an email.
“I have been among those who pushed for this extension, and I have again joined in introducing legislation to extend these benefits,” Leahy said. “The Senate will vote on our bill as a first order of business in January. This extension is important to many Vermont families, and it’s also important to our still-fragile economic recovery.”
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., was among a number of Democrats who wrote to Republican House Speaker John Boehner earlier this month, urging an extension. Things look more bleak in the Republican-led House, though, according to Welch spokesman Ryan Nickel.
“Peter is pushing for it, but it is an uphill climb,” Nickel said.
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