Jonathan J. Cooper/The Associated Press
Updated: 27 December 2013 09:49 PM
About 1.3 million unemployed Americans, including up to 76,800 people in Texas, will lose their federal emergency benefits this weekend, sending some families into an economic tailspin.
Those numbers will multiply through 2014 as people exhaust their state benefits, which could threaten the economic recovery just as it appears to be gaining steam. The situation sets the stage for a fiscal fight when Congress reconvenes next month.
“More than 1 million Americans are losing a critical lifeline” that has “allowed them to keep food on the table and a roof over their head,” Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said Friday in a conference call with reporters. “They will not have a joyous new year.”
Congress allowed the benefits program to expire as part of a deal on a 2014 federal budget. The $25 billion annual cost of the long-term unemployment benefits was part of $85 billion in savings achieved.
Perez questioned why the benefits are ending when unemployment, especially long-term unemployment, is still high. He said the benefits should be extended to “help families sustain themselves” and help the “economic growth for the nation.”
President Barack Obama and some Democratic congressional members have said they support maintaining long-term unemployment benefits, but there’s little indication that Republicans are willing to extend the temporary program again. Such benefits were reauthorized or expanded at least 11 times in the last five years.
Obama reportedly called two senators proposing to extend the benefits on Friday and said that he plans to push Congress to do it quickly.
Congress passed the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program in 2008 after the recession began and people were out of work for long periods of time. Federal benefits kick in when workers exhaust their state benefits, which typically last six months.
Nearly 8,000 people in Dallas County and more than 5,300 in Tarrant County will lose their federal emergency benefits Saturday, according to House Ways and Means Committee Democrats. The
average weekly benefit in Texas is $338.
“We want all recipients of state and federally funded unemployment benefits to know that the Texas workforce system is here for them, ready to help them find employment opportunities,” said Lisa Givens, a spokeswoman for the Texas Workforce Commission. “The good news is that Texas has continued to show positive growth in terms of jobs added over the last year.”
Out-of-work Texans can receive up to 54 weeks of state and federal unemployment benefits, down from a high of 99 weeks at the height of the recession. Congress has scaled back the federal emergency benefits as state unemployment rates have declined.
Texas added about 243,100 jobs in the first 11 months of this year. Its unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent in November from 6.3 percent in January.
The nation added more than 2 million jobs in the first 11 months of this year. The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 7 percent in November from 7.9 percent in January.
However, the number of long-term unemployed people in Texas and nationwide remains high — much higher than after past recessions. In November, 4.1 million Americans, or 37 percent of all unemployed, had been jobless for more than six months. More than 85,000 Texans have received unemployment benefits for 26 weeks or longer.
“The long-term unemployed are working hard looking for work,” Perez said. He listed those affected by the loss of federal benefits as including a California mother of two, an Ohio painter, a Massachusetts woman with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology who is worried about foreclosure on her home and repossession of her car and a Rhode Island woman who doesn’t know how she’ll survive.
The far-reaching implications also are reflected in the results of a recent poll.
More than half of Americans support federal jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed, according to a poll of 811 people this month by Hart Research Associates for the National Employment Law Project.
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