If Alonzo Rogers had lost his job with a trade show company in June 2008, he would have been eligible for nearly two years of unemployment benefits, thanks to stimulus bill provisions that provided extra "tiers" of benefits on top of the six months customarily provided by states. But since he lost his job this past December, six months is all he got.
"We just don't think it's fair because the people being laid off at the end of the curve are getting a harder rap," said his wife, Karen Rogers. "If he'd gotten laid off two years ago, it would have been great."
Congress failed to reauthorize extended unemployment benefits before they lapsed on June 1. Now people who exhaust their state benefits or one of the tiers of federally-funded Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits are ineligible for more help (unless they live in one of the 15 states with Extended Benefits programs, where another 20 weeks are available to some).
So far this month, Labor Department data show that 903,000 people have prematurely exhausted their benefits, including 57,200 in Georgia, where the Rogers family lives.
Karen Rogers, who is 33 and works as an analyst for an energy management company, said that since the $300 per week stopped coming in, she and her husband have decided to make some sacrifices. "It's only been two weeks but we've already had to make the decision to specifically state we can't pay [for] certain things," she said, "like credit cards, not enrolling our daughter in summer softball. Anything except the mortgage, daycare, food -- that's about it."
Congress is stumbling slowly toward reauthorizing the benefits through November, and when that happens any missed benefits should be paid retroactively. When the benefits return, however, it will probably be without an extra $25 per week provided by the stimulus bill.
In the meantime, state workforce agencies, including the Georgia Department of Labor, are telling benefits recipients to continue filing claims as normal. Agencies are making it clear to recipients who they can thank for any missed checks. "There are currently more than 1.5 million people in California certifying for UI benefits," says a release from the California Employment Development Department. "All claimants would be affected at one point or another by limits to the total of extension benefits available if no further congressional action is taken."
The current lapse is the third Congress has caused so far this year. The National Association of State Workforce Agencies calls the lapses a "huge" administrative burden on state labor departments. The uncertainty takes a toll on the unemployed as well.
"As the weeks pass it gets more difficult to restart the program," said NASWA president Rich Hobbie. "They're being overwhelmed by claimants wondering if they'll have the ability to survive."
Several unemployment recipients have told HuffPost they resent the fact that people laid off at different times are eligible for different durations of benefits.
"I actually feel a bit like I am being discriminated against," wrote a Falls Church, Va. woman in an email to HuffPost. "The company laid me off last September, and closed their doors the next month... Others who got laid off before me are still receiving benefits. But because I did not get laid until October, I cannot receive any extended help. Why is it that people that worked and were able to keep a job longer, got less help?"
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on the Senate floor Monday that the Senate "could" finish up the legislation to reauthorize the benefits this week. By Friday, 1.2 million people will have prematurely exhausted their extended benefits. There's little disagreement over the need for the benefits, given the fact that the unemployment rate is currently higher than when the programs were put in place, but conservative Democrats in the House and Senate have begun to agree with Republicans that extending jobless aid isn't quite worth adding to the deficit.
"When the Senate refuses to pass good bills, people in our state pay the price. We're hoping to avoid more of that this week," Reid said. "Right now, Nevada's unemployment rate is the highest in the country. Victims of the recession who have been out of work for a long time are struggling to make ends meet while they're looking and searching to find a job. This bill extends the emergency unemployment assistance they need, critical help that for many has expired and dried up. Every day we don't act, those families in Nevada and across the nation continue to suffer unnecessary pain."
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