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Feds curb benefits for jobless in Washington.

Federal emergency unemployment benefits begin phasing out at the end of November, which will reduce the weeks of benefits available to unemployment-insurance claimants in Washington, according to the Employment Security Department.

For the past year, eligible jobless workers could receive up to 99 weeks of unemployment benefits. This includes up to 26 weeks of regular benefits, up to 53 weeks of emergency unemployment compensation and up to 20 weeks of extended benefits.

With the end of EUC, people who are drawing regular benefits at the end of November and people who file new claims after Nov. 27 will be limited to 46 weeks of benefits.

"Although Congress has stepped in at the last minute and continued the program several times over the past two years, it doesn't look like there will be another save this time" said Employment Security Commissioner Paul Trause. "As a result, thousands of unemployed workers will find their benefits ending sooner than they expected."

Emergency unemployment compensation benefits are paid out in a series of four tiers. When the program ends, claimants will be allowed to continue claiming benefits through the duration of their existing tier, but those in tiers one, two or three may not advance to the next tier. Instead, they would advance to the extended-benefits program.

This week, Employment Security is notifying about 238,000 claimants who may be affected by the expiration of the EUC benefits.

After completing some final computer programming over Thanksgiving weekend, the department will send notices telling claimants which EUC tier they are in, if applicable, and will be able to tell them how many weeks of emergency unemployment compensation and extended benefits they have remaining.

Based on instructions from the federal Department of Labor, the programming effort also will adjust the EUC benefit calculations for individuals whose claims began prior to May 2009.

Those who are still claiming benefits will see their remaining weeks of benefits reduced somewhat to reflect the lower calculation. This will affect less than one-quarter of the claimants.

Anyone who runs out of benefits before the end of November may have received more emergency unemployment compensation benefits than they were entitled to. But under state law, they are not required to repay the benefits because the overpayment was not their fault.

"We know that the people who depend on these benefits will be very concerned about the loss of emergency unemployment benefits," said Nan Thomas, assistant commissioner for the unemployment insurance program. "We are adding staff who will be available solely to answer questions about these claims"

The special call center is now available and the Employment Security Department said that contact information would be provided to claimants.

Washington's unemployed, according to the department, have collected more than $3 billion in federal unemployment benefits since July 2008.
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Title Annotation:WBJ GOV'T: Keeping track of 'the other Washington'
Publication:Wenatchee Business Journal
Date:Dec 1, 2010
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