The Richmond Register

December 27, 2013

53,000 Kentuckians may lose jobless benefits if Congress lets emergency program expire

Register Staff Report

RICHMOND — About 53,000 jobless workers in Kentucky will lose emergency federal jobless benefits over the next 12 months unless Congress extends the program, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Nationally, nearly five million jobless people will be affected if Emergency Unemployment Compensation expires the week after Christmas, the report stated. Some 1.3 million will be cut off immediately; the rest would have qualified for the program next year but will get no assistance once their regular state unemployment benefits expire.

“Cutting off emergency jobless benefits will leave thousands of Kentucky families without needed help to pay the rent and afford utility bills,” said Jason Bailey, director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy in Berea. “And ending the benefits will harm an already-sluggish recovery by taking money out of people’s pockets they would otherwise spend in the local economy.”

The recent budget agreement between House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., did not include an extension of emergency jobless benefits, Bailey said. However, Congress did find time before leaving for the holidays to continue relief for physicians from scheduled cuts in Medicare payments, he noted.

UC benefits go to the long-term unemployed ― workers who have exhausted their regular, state-funded unemployment benefits before they can find a job, Bailey said. In Kentucky, the number of weeks that long-term jobless workers can stay on unemployment benefits has already been reduced from 99 weeks in October of 2011 to 63 weeks today. Once EUC expires at the end of the month, 26 weeks will be the limit, he said.

In a recent address to a Madison County industrial managers’ group, U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Sixth District, said he was opposed to prolonging unemployment benefits because they are a disincentive for jobless people to find work.

Congress has created a temporary program to help the long-term unemployed in every major recession since the late 1950s, Bailey said.

“Today’s long-term unemployment rate is at least twice as high as when lawmakers allowed any of those earlier programs to expire,” he said. “Kentucky still has nearly 30,000 fewer jobs than it had when the recession hit six years ago, and the slow pace of employment growth means that a full job recovery is still years away.”

With three jobseekers per opening, finding work is exceedingly difficult for the unemployed, Bailey added.

“Those out of work for a long period are already in a very difficult position as their savings dry up, and it gets harder for them to find employment, especially in a labor market that still has far too few jobs,” Bailey said. “When Congress returns in January, its first piece of work should be to continue emergency unemployment benefits to prevent those workers and their families from facing severe hardship and keep our economy on a path to growth.”