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With an extension of unemployment benefits not included in a congressional budget bill speeding toward the president’s desk, approximately 58,000 people in Massachusetts are scheduled to lose their federal benefits before the end of the month.
According to the Patrick administration, a small percentage of those individuals will be eligible to “open, re-open or resume” a state claim for benefits in cases where an individual worked during the past year and earned enough wages to qualify under certain circumstances. A large portion, however, will lose access to unemployment benefits Dec. 28 unless Congress acts to extend the federal program, which could cost as much as $25 billion for a full year.
“The Department of Unemployment Assistance is working with claimants to ensure that eligible individuals are able to transition to the appropriate program after EUC ends,” said a spokesman for the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.
Gov. Deval Patrick wrote a letter to congressional leaders last week urging them to extend the federal unemployment benefits that were not included in a bipartisan budget deal brokered between Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). The House passed the bill and Senate passage is expected this week.
“The decision not to extend federal unemployment benefits will directly and negatively impact the sustainability of millions of American families and have a detrimental effect on our national and individual state economies,” Patrick wrote.
Patrick said the loss of federal unemployment benefits will put added “strain” on state services that serve similar populations, and stretch federal funding for food stamps and low-income energy assistance thinner.
Last Friday, President Obama met at the White House with more than a dozen newly elected mayors and mayors-elect from the around the country, including Boston Mayor-elect Marty Walsh. Discussing the budget deal, Obama noted that an unemployment insurance extension was not included and “needs to be right away.”
“You’ve got potentially 1.3 million people during Christmas time that are going to lose their unemployment benefits at a time when it’s still very difficult for a lot of folks to find a job,” Obama said during the meeting. “That’s not just bad for those individuals and those families, that’s bad for our economy and that’s bad for our cities because if they don’t have the money to pay the rent and buy food for their families that has an impact on demand for our businesses and what we know is a failure to extend unemployment benefits is going to have a drag on economic growth next year.”
The Congressional Budget Office estimates an extension of benefits with grow the economy by 0.2 percent and add 200,000 jobs to the economy in 2014. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Monday told the media that the president was “working with Congress directly on how we make this happen.”
While most states provide 26 weeks of unemployment benefits before federal benefits kick in for the long-term unemployed, Massachusetts offers up to 30 weeks. Since 2008, Congress has authorized a federal extension of benefits that allows the unemployed to access benefits for up to 47 weeks more, or 77 weeks in total in Massachusetts.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said that he intends to bring forward standalone legislation in January that would authorize an extension of benefits retroactive to Dec. 28, though Republicans in the House and Senate could object without offsetting budget cuts.
The duration of unemployment benefits could also become a matter of debate at the state level in January when House Speaker Robert DeLeo has said he wants to look at including unemployment insurance reforms to a Senate-passed bill raising the minimum wage to $11 an hour over three years.
The Senate on Tuesday, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Edward Markey, voted to move the budget bill forward for debate, setting up a potential vote on passage no later than Wednesday.
The budget deal was crafted to avoid some of the deeper automatic federal budget cuts under sequestration that would have hit the Pentagon and discretionary domestic programs hard. Congressman Michael Capuano, of Somerville, voted for the budget that he said avoided $45 billion in spending reductions in fiscal 2014, but was “disappointed” that an extension of expiring unemployment insurance was not included.
“This means than 1.3 million Americans will get their last check at the end of this month. I am hopeful that Congress can quickly address this lapse in January,” Capuano said.
This program aired on December 18, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.
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