Nine-week jobless benefits extension back, for now

The latest state unemployment rate of 7 percent brings with it a mixed bag of news to those who are collecting or about to collect long-term unemployment benefits.

Higher unemployment crossed the state threshold of 7 percent for three straight months, from August to October, due in part to the government shutdown, Employment Security Department Communications Director Sheryl Hutchison said on Monday.

The higher jobless rate puts the state back on “Tier 3,” enabling 11,000 people statewide (135 in Grays Harbor County, and 33 in Pacific County) to be eligible to go on a nine-week extension of benefits, for a while at least, she said. The figures include those who may have become eligible since the nine-week extension was stopped last summer.

Those eligible must wait until next week to reopen or enact the extension, between Dec. 8-Dec. 14.

Using the website will likely be faster, Hutchison said.

But, that nine week extension may only last for three weeks because all special long term compensation is set to end as of Dec. 28. Everyone claiming benefits under Emergency Unemployment Compensation’s Tiers 1-4 could be cut off unless Congress reauthorizes special extended benefits, even if they have long-term benefits remaining, she said.

The cutoff will affect an additional 24,000 people in Washington collecting in Tiers 1 and 2. Hutchison did not have figures of how many will be affected in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties in those tiers. All told, long-term benefits for as many as 35,000 statewide could end or be interrupted.

Grays Harbor logged the highest jobless rate in the state in October at 10.9 percent. Pacific County came in at 10 percent unemployment.

The emergency compensation has been re-upped “11 or 12 times” since it was enacted in mid-2008, when the economic crisis hit hard, Hutchison said.

“I am not betting on this one,” she cautioned, saying she has learned not to second-guess what might happen to re-authorization of long-term benefits.

Nationwide, emergency unemployment compensation is paid in a series of Tiers 1 through 4. All states qualify for Tier 1, or an extension of 28 weeks to the regular 26 weeks. Tiers 2 through 4 are tied to a state’s three-month unemployment rate average.

Washington state was “triggered off Tier 4 in April 2012 after the three-month average dropped below 9 percent, and Tier 3 was turned off last summer after the three-month average fell below 7 percent,” a department release said.

“It’s ironic that the federal shutdown contributed to the rise in our unemployment rate and caused these benefits to be reactivated,” said Employment Security Commissioner Dale Peinecke.

Those eligible for the nine-week extension will be notified by email, robocalls and letters. Information is posted on the website esd.wa.gov.

Nearly 451,000 jobless workers have been paid $6.3 billion in emergency unemployment compensation since the program was activated in July 2008, the department said.


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