Emergency unemployment benefits renewed

Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Gov. Jay Nixon signs HB 1544, which will extend the state Extended Benefits Program and Shared Word Program, into law March 4. (Photo provided by the Missouri Department of Labor)

Extensions to both federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) and Federal Additional Compensation (FAC) benefits, which had officially run out at the beginning of this month, have been extended by Congress and renewed for another six months.

Gov. Jay Nixon has also passed extensions to the state Extended Benefits Program and the Shared Work Program, good news for more than 20,000 unemployed Missourians that would have lost their insurance benefits this month.

If Congress had not voted to extend the EUC and FAC benefits with funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, unemployment benefits would have run out for everyone by June, according to Amy Blouin, head of the Missouri Budget Project. Twenty thousand would have been just the "first wave" of jobless people to lose benefits, she said.

Missouri has a relatively high unemployment rate, 9.6 percent, compared to neighboring states like Kansas and Iowa, which have rates of about 6 percent.

Amy Susan, communications director of the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, said Lafayette County's unemployment rate is higher than the state average, at 10.7 percent as of December 2009. Susan reported that 599 people filed for Regular Unemployment Insurance -- which provides compensation for up to 26 weeks -- from Jan. 1 to Feb. 20 of this year.

In the same time period, 349 people filed claims for Emergency Unemployment Compensation in Lafayette County. There were 147 claims filed for EUC Tier I, which provides support for up to 20 weeks, and 87 claims made for EUC Tier II, which pays for up to 14 weeks. Tier III, compensation for up to 13 weeks, had 114 claims filed, and one person filed for Tier IV EUC, which provides support for up to six weeks.

Due to the extension, individuals can now file claims for federal EUC until April 5, 2010, and compensation will run until Sept. 4. Claims can also be filed for the Federal Additional Compensation program until April 5, and citizens already receiving FAC aid will continue to receive until Oct. 5, or until those benefits are exhausted, whichever comes first.

The state Extended Benefits Program can provide additional benefits to unemployed individuals, though Regional Claim Centers are not ready to take applications for that program yet.

The Missouri Division of Employment Security will notify and provide instructions to potentially eligible claimants once the program is finalized, according to the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Web site.

The extension of the state Shared Work Program will allow eligible employees to receive up to 52 weeks of shared work benefits per year, up from the 26 weeks allowed under previous stipulations. The change is going into effect this week, the Division of Employment Security said, and all new or renewed shared work plans will be extended automatically to allow up to 52 weeks of payment.

If federal and state governments had not passed extensions to the EUC, FAC, EB or Shared Work programs, unemployed patrons would have been ineligible to file additional claims after Feb. 27, and would only have received benefits until funds ran out, or until July 31, whichever came first.

Just as the federal unemployment benefits began to expire at the beginning of the month, the House of Representatives passed new legislation March 4 that offers temporary payroll tax breaks to companies that hire the unemployed. The Senate is deliberating on the legislation this week.

Many U.S. Representatives are doubtful that the payroll tax break incentive will generate many jobs, The Associated Press reported, but most said they voted to pass the bill simply because it is the only legislation on the table at the moment that will aid the unemployed.

"If that's the only thing I can vote on, I'll vote for it," Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) stated. "We've got to get something moving. We've got to get something done."

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), commented, "It's not that good, but it's better than nothing. And we're going to have to do more."

The Obama administration has promised more job-generating measures to come. If it passes in the Senate, about $35 billion has been allocated to the payroll tax break legislation.

The bill would exempt businesses hiring the unemployed from the 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax through December, and give them an additional $1,000 credit if new workers stay on the job for a full year.

The Associated Press reported that 8.4 million jobs have been eliminated since the recession began in December 2007.

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