Washington state’s improving unemployment rate will reduce the maximum weeks of unemployment benefits from 99 to 73 for most eligible workers after April 21, according to an announcement from the Employment Security Department.
“We are at a difficult point where our unemployment rate is greatly improved, yet still relatively high,” Employment Security Commissioner Paul Trause said, in an April 3 press release. “Losing up to six months of benefits will make the unemployment situation a lot more urgent for thousands of families.”
The employment agency will soon mail notices to all workers who are claiming long-term benefits with information about how their benefits will be affected.
Currently, there are two long-term benefits programs available in Washington after an eligible unemployed worker runs out of regular benefits.
Regular benefits last up to 26 weeks and are paid by the state’s unemployment trust fund. Both of the long-term-benefits programs are funded by the federal government, and they trigger on and off based on the state’s unemployment rate.
The first program, known as emergency unemployment compensation, began July 2008. After April 21, it will shrink from four tiers that pay up to 53 weeks of benefits to three tiers paying up to 47 weeks.
Unemployed workers who are already set up to receive the fourth tier of emergency benefits by April 21 can continue claiming benefits until they run out or until the program ends on Dec. 29, whichever comes first.
The second program, called extended benefits, began February 2009. It currently pays up to 20 weeks of benefits after an unemployed worker has run out of both regular and emergency benefits. This program will be shut down completely on April 21, and extended benefits will not be available to anyone in Washington after that date.
Employment Security officials estimate that approximately 12,500 unemployed workers will lose benefits immediately when extended benefits end on April 21.
In addition, more than 11,000 workers will exhaust their emergency benefits within eight weeks after April 21, and another 40,000 people on unemployment are at risk of running out during the final six months of the year if they can’t find work.
Currently, about 175,000 people are claiming either regular, emergency or extended benefits each week. To date, about 76,000 Washington residents have claimed all of their available unemployment benefits.
Employment Security officials do not expect Washington’s unemployment rate to drop enough this year to shut off additional tiers of emergency unemployment compensation.
Trause said he urges unemployed workers to contact a local WorkSource center for employment assistance.
“If you’ve been unemployed for a year or more and haven’t been able to find a job, you’d probably benefit from some expert assistance,” he said. “WorkSource has workshops, career counseling and job clubs that can make your job search more productive.”
The statewide WorkSource system partners with the Employment Security Department, local workforce development councils, other state and local agencies and nonprofits. More information can be found at www.go2worksource.com.