By Tom McParland
Although Congress last week agreed to a two-year budget deal to keep the government open through 2015, it adjourned for the holidays without extending federal unemployment benefits, a move that could have major implications for thousands of unemployed Ohioans.
Congress first passed the federally funded Emergency Unemployment Compensation program in 2008 as a temporary measure to aid unemployed workers who had exhausted their “regular” state benefits before finding a job.
The measure was extended multiple times, but legislators did not address it before leaving Washington, and it was not a part of the bipartisan budget deal passed earlier this month.
Currently, the state of Ohio provides regular unemployment benefits for a maximum of 26 weeks, which is funded by a combination of employer taxes and state and federal money.
If jobless Ohioans are still unable to find work after that period, they are eligible for extended federal benefits for up to 37 additional weeks.
But that will change Saturday, when 1.3 million American workers will lose federal benefits immediately and 128,600 unemployed workers in this state could lose federal benefits by the end of 2014, according to a report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
According to the report, 790,103 Ohio workers received EUC benefits between January 2008 and September 2013.
Now, 52,402 workers are set to exhaust their benefits at the end of the month, according to Angela Terez, a representative of the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services’s Office of Communications. She said between 10,000 and 11,000 of those would have run out of benefits in December, regardless.
The average weekly jobless benefits for Ohio is $318 in 2013. The maximum amount an unemployed Ohio worker receives is $413, but that figure rises based on the number of dependents the worker claims.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, co-sponsored a bill to extend the federal unemployment benefits for one year. In a statement, he said a lack of action would hurt families still trying to recover from the economic downturn of the Great Recession.
“These are hard-working Americans — many with children — who have fallen on tough times,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-17th, released a statement earlier this month, calling the failure to extend federal benefits “callous and un-American.”
“Speaker [John] Boehner and House Republicans must realize that people still have to pay for gas, groceries and mortgages,” Ryan said.
Critics expressed concern at the cost of the measure, and no bill came to a vote in either house.
Tim Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO, said the end of the federal unemployment benefits would be a tough blow for the state, as economic indicators have continued to be less than satisfactory.
“Extending unemployment insurance is particularly critical here in Ohio because our unemployment rate of 7.5 percent [as of October] remains well above the national average,” he said.
Although Ohio’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate ticked down in November to 7.4 percent, it still remained above the national average of 7 percent. Ohio lost a net of 12,000 jobs, and the number of unemployed remained unchanged at 427,000, according to the latest statistics released by the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.
The loss of benefits beyond 26 weeks of unemployment would hurt more than just the workers immediately affected, said Cleveland-based economist George Zeller.
He said that since the jobless workers need the funds, they are likely to spend the money quickly, putting money back into the local economy. He blamed Congress for passing up a chance to restore the federal benefits.
“It’s a definite economic boost, and they failed to do it,” he said. “That was a damaging decision.”
Meanwhile, ODJFS is still telling Ohioans to file for benefits to minimize delays in the event Congress comes back after the holiday recess and passes an extension.