An Action Plan to Assist Workers Exhausting Unemployment Benefits

Oct 10, 2012

By Elizabeth Lower-Basch and Lavanya Mohan

Since the start of the recent deep recession, unemployment benefits have provided millions of workers with support for themselves and their families. Regular state unemployment benefits are available for 26 weeks or less, depending on the state. This is usually enough time to find a new job, but one of the hallmarks of this recession has been extended unemployment. The most recent employment report showed that 4.8 million workers, 40 percent of all unemployed, have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer. Federal extended benefits have been a lifeline in the recession, but these benefits are scheduled to end abruptly this December for two million workers if Congress does not reauthorize the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program, which provides up to an additional 47 weeks of benefits.

An estimated 5.5 million workers have already exhausted their state and federal unemployment benefits from 2007 to 2011; another 500,000 will exhaust their unemployment benefits by the end of 2012. Many of these workers are struggling to pay their bills and provide the necessities of life for their families while they continue to search for work. Contrary to stereotypes, exhausting and ending unemployment benefits will affect workers across all income levels, regardless of age, education, gender and occupations.

These unemployed workers may now be eligible for income-based safety net programs, such as food assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps). However, they may not be aware that they are eligible -- or even know how to apply -- particularly if they are among the many formerly middle class workers who did not need assistance when they were working. A recent paper published by the National Employment Law Project highlights actions that state and local agencies can take to connect workers exhausting unemployment benefits with other benefits and supports. For example, Connecticut has prepared an aggressive action plan to identify workers exhausting unemployment benefits, understand their needs, and target them for social services and job creation. The state is collaborating on these initiatives across public, non-profit and private sectors.

As our workforce recovers from the recession, far too many families continue to struggle with how to make ends meet while facing unemployment - or underemployment. CLASP urges local, state and federal governments to work together to address these challenges and prevent workers who already are suffering from long-term unemployment from sliding into deep poverty.  We will be closely watching Connecticut's model - along with other innovations at the national, state and local level - for promising practices to support those who need it most.



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