More than 22,000 jobless Texans will not qualify for an additional 13 weeks of unemployment compensation because the state's improving employment situation has triggered limits on the federal benefits, the Texas Workforce Commission said Tuesday.
Beginning July 8, unemployed job seekers who exhaust 60 weeks of unemployment compensation will no longer be able to apply for an additional 13 weeks of benefits, the commission said. The lower ceiling kicked in because the state's three-month average jobless rate has dropped below 7 percent.
This marks the third reduction in federal unemployment benefits programs for Texans this year, all due to the state's improving unemployment rates.
Unemployed job seekers can now collect a maximum of 60 weeks of state and federal jobless benefits, down from 99 weeks at the start of the year. The available length of jobless benefits had dropped to 73 weeks in April.
The federal programs are "all based on state unemployment rates, so we're not qualifying for a good reason," said Lisa Givens, a Workforce Commission spokeswoman. "For those who are still unemployed, we want to encourage them to take advantage of the services available through the Workforce Commission."
The agency offers job-search and educational services, as well as programs that help unemployed workers with child care, taxes and other issues. Residents seeking more information on assistance programs from both public and private agencies can call 211, the state's services hotline.
Texas offers a maximum 26 weeks of regular unemployment benefits, which are funded by employers in the state. However, the federal government established extended-benefit programs in response to the job losses caused by the recession.
These extended federal benefits have proved crucial as the number of long-term unemployed workers soared during the recession. As of May, 42.8 percent of the nation's unemployed workers had been out of work for more than 26 weeks, according to seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That was up from 18.4 percent in May 2008.
The expanded jobless benefits included the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, the initiative being scaled back in July. The federal government established the program in 2008 and has re-upped and modified it several times in the years since. It's scheduled to expire on Jan. 2, although Congress could extend it again.
In May, more than 8,300 unemployed workers in the Austin metro area collected $10.6 million in benefits from various tiers of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program -- an average of about $1,275 a month per person, according to Texas Workforce Commission data. That was down from 9,500 jobless residents collecting $12.4 million in May 2011 -- about $1,310 a month per person.
The number of Austin-area unemployed workers who will not qualify for the additional 13 weeks of benefits was not available Tuesday. Statewide, almost 158,000 jobless workers received those benefits in May, down from 178,000 the same month last year.
The average weekly benefit collected by unemployed Texans from all benefits programs was $326 as of the end of May, said Maurice Emsellem, co-director of policy at the National Employment Law Project. That doesn't sound like much, he said, but it can have a significant impact for both the long-term unemployed and the communities in which they live.
"We have record numbers of long-term unemployed piling up because we have such limited job growth," Emsellem said. "The economy of Texas is probably closing out on several million dollars of federal benefits going directly to those communities with the highest unemployment."
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