Will Congress Extend Emergency Unemployment Benefits?

January 2014

Congress is posed to vote on a three-month, temporary extension of Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC). The EUC was implemented in the midst of the Great Recession in 2008, during a sharp increase in unemployment. For the first time since it started, the aid was not renewed by Congress last session, and instead met its expiration date on December 28. The benefits served approximately 1.3 million Americans.

In Colorado, that means 20,237 people lost their EUC, according to statistics from the Ways and Means Committee. A breakdown of that number shows that the most impacted counties are:

Denver (2,958)

Arapahoe (2,540)

El Paso (3,072)

Jefferson (2,131)

Adams (2,261)

An additional 29,200 unemployed Colorado residents will lose their benefits by July 2014, if the Senate doesn't approve the temporary extension. If it doesn’t pass, it “really is the end-all for those individuals,” said Colorado Department of Labor and Unemployment spokesman, Bill Thoennes.

Colorado unemployment’s is at 6.5 percent, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. People who couldn’t find a job after actively looking for six months were eligible for EUC, which averaged out to a monthly income of $1,160. Each state’s eligibility for compensation is different and Colorado reached its longest mark at 99 weeks.

"Essentially, all (unemployment) claimants have always received 26 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits in Colorado.  In the past, when those 26 weeks were finished, the claim would come to an end, regardless whether the claimant had found work or not," Thoennes said in an email. Which is what happened on December 28: Those who had already received the 26-week max of state-funded unemployment compensation saw any federal extension they expected disappear with little warning. 

While a bipartisan effort led to a federal budget in the closing of the last session, it appears such cooperation may not last long. The two sides appear jaggedly split on the issue of emergency federal unemployment benefits; Republicans are worried about the $25 billion it would cost, and Democrats argue that pulling the compensation will have a negative impact on the economy. Not extending the unemployment benefits "can create a kind of ripple effect that can hurt the economy in general,” said Thoennes.

1/29/14 UPDATE: The Senate has post-poned a vote on extending EUC, for now. What would you like the government to do about unemployment benefits? 

—Image courtesy of Shutterstock