Extended jobless benefits may expire

In Clark County, low earners may feel increased pressure

By Courtney Sherwood, Columbian freelance writer

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The state is preparing to tell 238,000 unemployed Washington residents that their jobless benefits may run out sooner than expected, spurring concerns in Clark County about the rising burden on a stretched social safety net.

Beginning Nov. 27, a federal program that has allowed people to collect unemployment insurance payments for up to 99 weeks will begin to wind down, though Washington’s jobless will still be able to receive benefits for 46 weeks.

Congress temporarily extended benefits to 99 weeks in 2008, and has several times voted to keep that extension.

“It doesn’t look like there will be another save this time,” Washington Employment Security Commissioner Paul Trouse said Tuesday in a statement.

Less time to find job

In Clark County, where unemployment was at 12.2 percent in September, 1,592 people have exhausted those extended benefits.

Now the 10,635 county residents still receiving unemployment checks as of October will have less time to find work. By May, none of these people will still be eligible for the checks, nor will between 5,000 and 10,000 Southwest Washington residents who receive unemployment payments from Oregon because they once worked there, said Scott Bailey, regional economist with the Employment Security Department.

“The majority of jobs lost have been low-wage jobs affecting lower-income families,” Bailey said. “They were already economically stressed, even when getting benefits, and this is going to be a real challenge for a lot of people. I expect we will be looking at increases in homelessness and people who can’t feed their families.”

People who have been unemployed for less than six months, or who become unemployed this month, will only be able to receive jobless benefits for 46 weeks. However, some people will still be eligible for more assistance, depending on where they fall on a multi-tiered state benefits system. The Washington Employment Security Department is mailing letters to claimants to explain how they will be affected by the end of extended benefits.

The state has boosted staffing at its employment information call center to handle an anticipated surge in questions. The call center can be reached at 1-877-558-8509 during regular business hours.