WASHINGTON -- People laid off through no fault of their own are eligible for fewer and fewer weeks of unemployment insurance as the government pares back the safety net deployed in response to the worst recession since the Great Depression.

But since Congress said states should lose access to some benefits automatically as unemployment declines, volatility in the numbers means states are seeing their eligibility for some federal jobless benefits trigger off and on. In the past month, eight states have regained eligibility for several months' worth of benefits they'd only recently lost.

How come? It's really complicated.

Federal unemployment insurance has been provided by Congress as a matter of course during recessions for the past half century. Since 2008, two programs have combined to provide up to 73 weeks of federal assistance for workers who use up the standard 26 weeks of state benefits. One federal program, called Extended Benefits, formerly provided up to 20 weeks of assistance, but has been allowed to expire completely.

The other program, called Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC), is still in place until the end of the year. Its 53 weeks of benefits are broken into four "tiers," with each providing a different number of weeks of assistance. Eligibility for the later tiers requires a state to have a higher unemployment rate.

According to the most recent "Trigger Notice" from the U.S. Department of Labor, Georgia, Mississippi and Michigan regained eligibility for the fourth tier of EUC on Oct. 7, because the three-month average unemployment rates in those states reached 9 percent or above. The states had only lost eligibility for the fourth tier in June and July, when their three-month average unemployment rates dipped below 9 percent.

Georgians, Michiganders and Mississippians receiving benefits at the cutoff time would still receive their remaining weeks' worth. And workers who missed out on the fourth tier should start receiving benefits now that their state has again become eligible. The Georgia Department of Labor said it notified 13,000 workers they were eligible for the fourth tier's 10 weeks of assistance.

(For more information about the tiers and triggers of Emergency Unemployment Compensation, check the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities here.)

Also on Oct. 7, unemployment rates above 7 percent caused Maryland and Texas to regain eligibility for nine weeks of benefits from the third tier of EUC. (Tier 3 used to come with 13 weeks of compensation, but Congress trimmed it in February.) In September, the third tier triggered on in Wisconsin and Wyoming, and the second tier triggered on in Utah because the state's three-month jobless rate hit 6 percent.

The Emergency Unemployment Compensation program is set to expire altogether in December, unless Congress reauthorizes it. According to the National Employment Law Project, a worker research and advocacy group, 2 million people will abruptly stop receiving checks at the end of the year under current law.

HuffPost readers: Unemployed? Tell us about it -- email arthur@huffingtonpost.com. Please include your phone number if you're willing to do an interview.

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • The Deficit Has Grown Mostly Because Of The Recession

    The deficit has ballooned not because of specific spending measures, but <a href="http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?s[1][id]=FYFSD" target="_hplink">because of the recession</a>. <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/Historicals" target="_hplink">The deficit more than doubled</a> between 2008 and 2009, as the economy was in free fall, since laid-off workers paid less in taxes and needed more benefits. The deficit then shrank in 2010 and 2011.

  • The Stimulus Cost Much Less Than Bush's Wars, Tax Cuts

    Republicans frequently have blamed <a href="http://projects.nytimes.com/44th_president/stimulus" target="_hplink">the $787 billion stimulus</a> for the national debt, but, when all government spending is taken into account, the stimulus frankly wasn't that big. In contrast, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/29/cost-of-war-iraq-afghanistan_n_887084.html" target="_hplink">the U.S. will have spent nearly $4 trillion</a> on wars in the Middle East by the time those conflicts end, according to a recent report by Brown University. <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/revisiting-the-cost-of-the-bush-tax-cuts/2011/05/09/AFxTFtbG_blog.html" target="_hplink">The Bush tax cuts have cost nearly $1.3 trillion</a> over 10 years.

  • The Deficit Grew Under George W. Bush

    When George W. Bush took office, <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/Historicals" target="_hplink">the federal government was running a surplus</a> of $86 billion. When he left, that had turned into a $642 billion deficit.

  • The Deficit Is Shrinking

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/Historicals" target="_hplink">Last year's federal budget deficit</a> was 12 percent lower than in 2009, according to the Office of Management and Budget.<a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/Historicals" target="_hplink">The deficit is projected to shrink</a> even more over the next several years.

  • Investors Are Paying Us To Borrow Money

    <a href="http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/data-chart-center/interest-rates/Pages/TextView.aspx?data=realyield" target="_hplink">The interest rate on 10-year Treasury bonds</a> is <em>negative</em>, according to the Treasury Department. Investors are even paying us for 30-year Treasury bonds, when adjusted for inflation.

  • Investors Are Not Running Away

    <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/niall-ferguson-has-been-wrong-on-economics-2012-8" target="_hplink">Conservative commentators</a> have been warning for years that investors will run away from Treasury bonds because of the national debt. So far it's not happening. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/30/treasury-yield-record-low_n_1555975.html" target="_hplink">Interest rates on Treasury bonds</a> continue to hover at historic lows.

  • Health Care Reform Reduces The Deficit

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/04/republican-platform-2012-factual-mistakes_n_1840795.html#slide=1461142" target="_hplink">Republicans have blasted the Affordable Care Act</a> as "budget-busting." But <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/04/republican-platform-2012-factual-mistakes_n_1840795.html#slide=1461142" target="_hplink">health care reform actually reduces the deficit</a>, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

  • The U.S. Is Borrowing Less From China

    <a href="http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/30/fear-of-china-syndrome/" target="_hplink">The U.S. government is borrowing much less from foreign countries</a> than before the recession, according to government data cited by Paul Krugman. That is because the U.S. private sector is financing our bigger deficits.

  • We Spend A Lot On Defense

    <a href="http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=1258" target="_hplink">Defense spending constituted 20 percent</a> of federal spending last year, or $718 billion, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. This adds up to <a href="https://twitter.com/AJInsight/statuses/241269134996959234" target="_hplink">41 percent of the world's defense spending</a>, according to Bloomberg TV anchor Adam Johnson. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/19/mitt-romney-military-budget_n_1687601.html" target="_hplink">Mitt Romney has vowed</a> to not cut defense spending if elected president.

  • We Spend A Lot On Health Care

    <a href="http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=1258" target="_hplink">Health insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid, constituted 21 percent</a> of federal spending last year. In contrast, education constituted 2 percent of federal spending. Meanwhile, <a href="http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/08/19/2956609/middle-aged-blues-over-paul-ryans.html" target="_hplink">Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have promised not to change Medicare</a> for Americans age 55 and older.

  • Republicans May Want Large Deficits For Now

    <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/corporate-taxes-deficits-and-labor-vs-capital-during-reagans-first-term-2012-7" target="_hplink">The federal budget deficit ballooned</a> under Ronald Reagan, and that may be just the way Republicans like it. <a href="http://www.forbes.com/2010/05/06/tax-cuts-republicans-starve-the-beast-columnists-bruce-bartlett.html" target="_hplink">Some Republican thinkers</a> have proposed <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/22/opinion/22krugman.html" target="_hplink">"starving the beast"</a>: that is, cutting taxes in order to use larger deficits to justify spending cuts later. Since Republicans ultimately want lower taxes and a smaller government, what better way is there to cut spending than to make it look urgent and necessary?