Federal shutdown reactivated state's long-term jobless aid

The federal government shutdown in October had a silver lining for jobless residents Washington state who recently lost their long-term unemployment benefits.

The shutdown helped lift the state’s unemployment rate enough to reactivate nine weeks of long-term unemployment benefits that were shut off in August.

Currently in Washington, jobless workers can claim up to 54 weeks of unemployment benefits, including 26 weeks of regular, state-paid benefits and 28 weeks of federally funded emergency unemployment compensation (EUC).

Nationwide, EUC is paid in a series of four tiers. All states qualify for tier 1, but tiers 2 through 4 are tied to a state’s three-month average unemployment rate.

Washington triggered off tier 4 in April 2012 after the three-month average dropped below 9 percent, and tier 3 was turned off last summer after the three-month average fell below 7 percent.

When the October 2013 unemployment rate was factored in, the three-month average rose again to 7 percent. The federal Department of Labor has directed Washington’s Employment Security Department to restart EUC tier 3 on Dec. 8.

“It’s ironic that the federal shutdown contributed to the rise in our unemployment rate and caused these benefits to be reactivated,” said Employment Security Commissioner Dale Peinecke, in a news release.

Unemployed workers who used up their EUC tier 2 benefits after Aug. 10 may become eligible for tier 3 benefits beginning the week of Dec. 8-14. However, everyone who is claiming unemployment benefits should be aware that the entire Emergency Unemployment Compensation program ends on Dec. 28, unless Congress votes to extend it.

The Employment Security Department is using a combination of email, robocalls and letters to alert potentially eligible customers about the change in benefits. Information also has been posted on the department’s website: esd.wa.gov.

About 24,000 people in Washington currently are in EUC tier 1 or 2. Nearly 11,000 individuals may be eligible to claim tier 3 benefits.

Since the program was activated in July 2008, nearly $6.3 billion in emergency unemployment compensation has been paid to about 451,000 jobless workers in Washington state.

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