The federal government's phase-out of emergency unemployment benefits could halt unemployment checks for more than 164,000 out-of-work North Carolina residents over the next seven weeks, according to the state Employment Security Commission.
Already more than 21,000 unemployed people have had their checks discontinued, and more will be affected each week unless Congress decides to extend the emergency benefits, ESC spokesman Larry Parker said.
The House of Representatives voted at the end of last month to extend the emergency benefits through Nov. 30, but the Senate has not yet voted on the measure. Congress has allowed the emergency benefits to lapse several times in the past but eventually extended them.
But the halting of benefit checks, even if it's only temporary, is another blow to the state's cash-strapped unemployed, who are struggling through a tight job market. The state's unemployment rate was 10.8 percent in April.
"Without this money, many families obviously would face significant financial hardship in terms of their ability to pay bills, the potential risk of foreclosure and bankruptcy," said Alexandra Sirota, public policy analyst at the N.C. Budget and Tax Center, a nonprofit that advocates for low-income families.
The phase-out of emergency unemployment benefits began last week. Unemployment recipients in the middle of a tier of emergency benefits, which can last from six weeks to 20 weeks, will continue to receive their remaining benefits. But they won't be eligible for a new tier of emergency benefits unless Congress extends them.
Emergency unemployment benefits were enacted by Congress during the recession to supplement regular, 26-week unemployment benefits.
Claimants who run out of emergency benefits may still be eligible for up to 20 weeks of extended benefits, enacted as part of the federal government's stimulus package. Claimants who have exhausted their regular unemployment benefits or their emergency benefits should file a claim with the ESC to determine their eligibility for extended benefits.
In addition, the $25 extra each week that recipients of unemployment checks have been receiving since February 2009 also is being phased out by the federal government.
New unemployment claimants are no longer eligible for the extra $25. Claimants already receiving the money will continue to receive it through the week that ends Dec. 11, if they also are receiving other unemployment benefits.
Sirota expressed optimism that Congress will extend the emergency benefits, but she is concerned that the bill passed by the House scales back subsidies for health care insurance for the unemployed.
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