by Stephanie Carroll Carson
DENVER – Almost 18,000 Coloradans receiving federal emergency unemployment benefits are getting lumps of coal in their stockings this Christmas. So far, Congress hasn’t voted to continue funding of the “last resort” benefits, and it’s not likely to happen, with House members already home for the holiday break.
The federal money was put in place at the beginning of the Great Recession to help people after their state unemployment ran out at 26 weeks. According to Kathy White, deputy director of the Colorado Fiscal Institute, the lack of funding will have a wide-reaching effect.
“It’s coming at the end of the year, and I think that if people know that the likelihood (is) that they may be losing their only benefit, it will make it a much tighter holiday season overall for everyone.”
The Congressional Budget Office estimates extending the benefits for another two years would cost $26 billion, but would add an estimated 200,000 jobs to the economy. Opponents of an extension argue that the expense is too great.
White also pointed out that during past recessions, Congress has opted to phase out the emergency federal unemployment when the long-term unemployment rate drops to an acceptable level, but right now the rate is twice such a level.
“And emergency unemployment insurance benefits go to the long-term unemployed, so it’s workers who have exhausted their regular state-funded benefits and still can’t find a job, and it’s really been an important support during this recession,” she said.
According to the Colorado Fiscal Institute, extending federal unemployment would protect more than 3000 jobs in Colorado in 2014. Since 2008, the federal unemployment helped more than 350,000 Coloradans who, despite their best efforts, couldn’t find work.
If Congress fails to reinstate the money in January, more than 70,000 people in Colorado will be affected in 2014.