Washington to lose 9 weeks of long-term unemployment benefits

The state’s improving economy is bringing unemployment rates down statewide, but in lagging counties such as Grays Harbor and Pacific, that’s going to cost some jobless workers up to nine weeks of long-term unemployment benefits, according to the state Employment Security Department.

Currently in Washington, jobless workers can claim up to 63 weeks of unemployment benefits, including 26 weeks of regular, state-paid benefits and 37 weeks of federally funded emergency unemployment compensation (EUC). After the June unemployment statistics were factored in, Washington’s three-month average dropped below 7 percent, triggering the cutoff of some federal benefits all over the state.

On the Twin Harbors, up to 413 workers could be affected by the elimination of long-term benefits, even though unemployment rates are higher here, Ron Schmidt, Worksource co-manager said. It is not possible to put a specific number on how many will actually be affected. Most of the 413 people, or 335, are in Grays Harbor County and 78 in Pacific County.

“We know a lot of people depend (on the benefits) to put food on the table,” added Mike Michener, Worksource co-manager. He reminded that people currently on Tier 3, or the nine week extension, or who qualify for Tier 3 before Aug. 10 will still receive the benefits.

Workers who are receiving a training readjustment allowance can call Worksource locally to find out how they will be affected. And if their benefits have stopped or will stop sooner than expected, Michener reminded that Worksource has programs available to help them find work. Workers should call the unemployment claims center to find out their status, and to see if there are any other benefits they might be eligible for, Michener and Schmidt suggested.

Grays Harbor and Pacific counties have their own page on the website, www.go2worksource.com, Michener added.

In June, Grays Harbor County reported an unemployment rate of 12.1 percent, highest in the state, and Pacific County, also in the top five highest, reported 10.8 percent. Both are substantially higher than the state average of 6.8 percent as seasonally adjusted.

Nationwide, emergency unemployment compensation is paid in a series of four tiers, with tiers 2 through 4 tied to a state’s three-month average unemployment rate. In April 2012, Washington fell off tier 4 — which provides the most benefits — after the three-month average dropped below 9 percent.

After the June 2013 unemployment rate was factored in, the three-month average dropped below 7 percent, which is the threshold for emergency unemployment compensation tier 3. Last week, the federal Department of Labor directed Washington’s Employment Security Department to begin phasing out tier 3 on Aug. 11.

“Emergency unemployment compensation played a vital role in helping families and local economies survive the recession,” said Employment Security Commissioner Dale Peinecke. “Ramping down the program is hard for workers who are still struggling to find jobs, but it’s a positive sign that the economy is recovering.”

Unemployed workers could be affected in one of three ways by the phase-out of tier 3:

· Those who complete EUC tier 2 on or before Aug. 10 may continue to claim EUC benefits until they finish tier 3.

· Anyone who exhausts tier 2 after Aug. 10 will be out of EUC benefits.

· A small number of individuals who have been approved for training benefits or Trade Act benefits will continue to have unemployment benefits available after finishing EUC.

The Employment Security Department is using email and robocalls to alert customers about the change in benefits.

About 26,000 people in Washington currently are in tier 1 or 2 of the EUC program. Under federal law, the program is slated to end nationwide on Dec. 28.

Since the program was activated in July 2008, more than $6 billion in emergency unemployment compensation has been paid to about 440,000 jobless workers in Washington state.