About 55,000 long-term unemployed Ohioans will lose federal jobless benefits during the holidays as the recession-era emergency aid comes to an end.
Approved by Congress more than four years ago, the federally funded benefits have provided workers up to 73 additional weeks of aid after they exhaust six months of state payments. Lawmakers extended the program several times before restructuring it this year to reduce the maximum weeks available as the aid is phased out.
Advocates for the unemployed are urging Congress to approve another extension, noting that the nation's jobless rate remains at 7.9 percent. In Ohio, unemployment is 6.9 percent.
"If Congress doesn't renew federal benefits, the impact in Ohio will be immediate and negative," said Zach Schiller, research director for Policy Matters Ohio, a left-leaning policy-research group based in Cleveland. "Not only will the unemployed suffer, but the state economy will take a hit as well."
A recent Policy Matters report found that fewer than a quarter of jobless workers in Ohio receive state unemployment compensation, with the federal support boosting that to 39 percent.
Because unemployed workers are likely to spend their benefits on food, rent and other expenses, the aid also helps the local economy, advocates note. The average benefit is $300 a week.
Sen. Sherrod Brown is among those pushing for an extension of emergency benefits to be included in any agreement Congress reaches to avoid the "fiscal cliff" and avert $600 billion in automatic tax increases and spending cuts. A one-year extension could cost $30 billion.
"Ohio's economy is moving in the right direction, thanks in large part to the auto rescue and the developing shale industry. That being said, there are still too many Ohioans looking for work and too many families unsure of whether they'll be able to pay the mortgage or put dinner on the table," said Brown's spokeswoman, Lauren Kulik
"Unemployment insurance protects Ohioans and their families when their jobs are eliminated. Sen. Brown supports an extension of unemployment insurance and also recognizes that most Americans would rather be collecting a paycheck -- which is why he's fighting to ensure that any 'fiscal cliff' agreement includes a strong jobs component."
Congress created the emergency federal unemployment program in 1958 and hasn't allowed benefits to end while unemployment rates were above 7.2 percent, advocates note.
In Ohio, nearly 134,000 workers are collecting unemployment benefits, according to the state Department of Job and Family Services. About 37 percent have exhausted state benefits and now rely on federal benefits, which are scheduled to end on Dec. 29.
In Franklin County, almost half the 11,000 on unemployment stand to lose benefits.
After the federal program ends, unemployed workers will be eligible for no more than the 26 weeks of traditional state benefits.
A report released last week by the National Employment Law Project said the emergency unemployment compensation "lifted 2.3 million people out of poverty, including more than 600,000 children," and without the support, "the poverty rate would have doubled over the last year."
Without an extension, the advocacy group estimates, 2 million long-term unemployed Americans will lose benefits.
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