CLEARWATER TRIBUNE HOME

JUNE 24, 2010

Benefits end for thousands of Idaho workers

   Unemployment benefits ended two weeks ago for more than 4,000 jobless Idaho workers.

   Benefit eligibility was curtailed with the expiration of the February 2009 federal stimulus law. Those provisions - expanded by the Congress several times in the following months - provided unemployed workers who exhausted regular state unemployment benefits of 10 to 26 weeks with another 28 to 73 weeks. The provisions also added an extra $25 to the weekly benefit of every claimant regardless of the basic benefit amount.

   Unemployment benefits ended with last week’s checks for all workers in the final phase of the extended benefit program, and the $25 supplemental payment will not be provided to any unemployed workers filing their initial benefit claims after May 29.

   Claimants receiving benefits under one of the four phases of the federal extended benefit program will receive weekly checks until that phase is completed. Claimants in the federal-state extended benefit program have had their benefits stopped.

   Those claimants will not qualify for new phases of extended benefits or see their checks restored under the federal-state extended benefit program unless Congress votes to extend the programs.

   About 22,000 people have been receiving extended federal benefits. The other 19,000 are still receiving regular state benefits. Initial claims totaled just over 2,900 two weeks ago. None of them, nor any initial claims filed since will receive the $25 supplement without congressional action.

   Instead of calling local offices, claimants with questions are encouraged to visit the Idaho Department of Labor Web site at labor.idaho.gov for the latest information regarding extended unemployment insurance benefits.

   "If Congress reaches an agreement and resumes the extended benefit programs, we'll notify all the people who will be affected," said Josh McKenna, acting benefits bureau chief. "Unfortunately we won't know anything more until Congress takes action."

   The $25 federal supplement was injecting more than $1 million a week into the Idaho economy and, as more unemployed workers exhausted regular state benefits without finding work and moved to the federal program, federal extended benefit payments have exceeded regular state benefit payments for the past six weeks.

   Last week unemployment benefits totaled more than $11 million – $4.7 million in regular benefits and $5.9 million in federal extended benefits. Another $1 million was disbursed in the $25 supplemental payment.

   While employers appeared to be returning to normal hiring patterns this spring after nearly two years of cutbacks, the statewide unemployment rate was still 9 percent, and the Conference Board’s job listing index had only two jobs listed in April for every seven unemployed Idaho workers.

   The total number of Idaho jobs for May reached 610,100 just fractionally higher than 609,500 for May 2005.