Bringing the Economy Home

Thousands Of Idahoans Lose Unemployment Benefits As Federal Program Expires

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In a February appearance, President Barack Obama called on Congress to extend unemployment insurance through the end of this year.

About 150 Idahoans are exhausting their unemployment insurance benefits each week without finding work, according to the state Department of Labor.  In addition, the department this week notified more than 6,000 Idahoans that their unemployment insurance benefits will expire at the end of the year.

The benefits coming to an end are provided under the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which assists people who have exhausted regular state benefits.

Congress has so far chosen not to extend the emergency benefits, but an extension still could happen.  “Right now it appears to be off the table, but I believe it will come back on the table,” says Chad Stone, chief economist at the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  “It’s been a fight every time it’s had to be renewed.” 

The emergency benefits program isn’t new.  Congress has enacted a similar program in each major recession since 1958, Stone says.  What is new, though, is the point at which those benefits could come to an end.

“We’ve never let [emergency benefits] expire when the unemployment rate was higher than 7.2 percent,” Stone explains.  “We’re at 7.8 percent, and most analysts think that the unemployment rate is likely to remain close to 8 percent for quite some time.”

If the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program is not renewed, Idahoans will be eligible for a maximum of 26 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits.  That’s a substantial decrease from the 99 weeks of unemployment benefits available to out-of-work Idahoans as of the end of last year.

A separate unemployment insurance program — the federal-state extended benefits program — expired in Idaho in August, because Idaho’s three-month average unemployment rate was not high enough to warrant its continuation.

Early this year, Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics said in Congressional testimony that every $1 spent on unemployment insurance benefits generates $1.55 for U.S. GDP.


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