Washington to lose 9 weeks of long-term jobless aid

Washington’s improving economy will force the state to give up nine weeks of long-term unemployment benefits, according to officials with the Employment Security Department.

Currently in Washington, jobless workers can claim up to 63 weeks of unemployment benefits, including 26 weeks of regular, state-paid benefits and 37 weeks of federally funded emergency unemployment compensation (EUC).

Nationwide, EUC is paid in a series of four tiers, with tiers 2 through 4 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.

After the June 2013 unemployment rate was factored in, the three-month average dropped below 7 percent, which is the threshold for EUC tier 3. Last week, the federal Department of Labor directed Washington’s Employment Security Department to begin phasing out tier 3 on Aug. 11.

“Emergency unemployment compensation played a vital role in helping families and local economies survive the recession,” said Employment Security Commissioner Dale Peinecke, in a press release. “Ramping down the program is hard for workers who are still struggling to find jobs, but it’s a positive sign that the economy is recovering.”

Unemployed workers could be affected in one of three ways by the phase-out of tier 3:

– Those who complete EUC tier 2 on or before Aug. 10 may continue to claim EUC benefits until they finish tier 3.
– Anyone who exhausts tier 2 after Aug. 10 will be out of EUC benefits.
– A small number of individuals who have been approved for training benefits or Trade Act benefits will continue to have unemployment benefits available after finishing EUC.

The Employment Security Department is using email and robocalls to alert customers about the change in benefits.

About 26,000 people in Washington currently are in tier 1 or 2 of the EUC program. Under federal law, the program is slated to end nationwide on Dec. 28.

Since the program was activated in July 2008, more than $6 billion in emergency unemployment compensation has been paid to about 440,000 jobless workers in Washington state.

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