About 950 unemployed Arizonans each week will exhaust their state unemployment insurance benefits after Dec. 21 and won't be eligible for extended federal benefits if Congress doesn't reauthorize an extension.
From Jan. 1 through Nov. 22, 51,072 Arizonans have exhausted their state unemployment insurance benefits, which provides 26 weeks of compensation, according to the state Department of Economic Security. Of those, 42,073 received the federal benefit, which provides an additional 13 weeks of compensation.
The Department of Economic Security administers state and federal unemployment insurance benefits.
President Bush and the Congress voted to provide 13 weeks of federal unemployment insurance beginning in March 2002 to help families and stimulate the economy. It has been authorized twice since then, first in January and then in May of this year.
The federal extension will expire Dec. 21. The 3,752 Arizonans who will have exhausted their state benefit by that date will have until Dec. 26 to apply for the federal benefit. The some 950 who exhaust their state benefit after Dec. 21, however, will no longer be eligible for the federal benefit, according to the DES.
Nearly 25,000 Arizonans will be affected during the next six months if the federal benefit is not extended, Children's Action Alliance reports. The federal benefits have helped more than 58,600 Arizona workers who are between jobs pay their rent and utilities, and afford food and other basics, said Carol Kamin, the alliance's executive director.
“Unemployment insurance is a critical support for working families when someone has been laid off,” she said. “We need federal benefits to kick in during these tough spells when it takes longer to find a new job.”
The Congress adjourned for Thanksgiving, but the House is scheduled to meet Monday and the Senate plans to convene Tuesday. It is uncertain whether either chamber will take up the issue.
After that, neither chamber will convene again until Jan. 20.
Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., said Congress should take a “wait-and-see” approach when it comes to extending federal benefits.
“I think that we are poised for an exceptional recovery and are in the midst of it right now,” he said. “Obviously if there's some unexpected downturn, we could reserve the right to re-examine it in the first quarter. But I think that things are coming back well, so I would not want to move right now to extend something when you're seeing so many jobs come back on line and so many new opportunities arising.”
Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain, R-Ariz., did not return calls for comment.
Since March 2002, federally extended unemployment insurance benefits have pumped nearly $93 million into the state's economy, Kamin said.
“Failure to act will have serious consequences,” she said. “It will also put many families at risk of profound deprivation, including losing their homes or going hungry. This is a problem with a solution and Congress needs to act now.”
Congress isn't likely to consider an extension in federal benefits before the end of the year, said Maurice Emsellem, policy director of the National Employment Law Project, a workers' advocacy group. Nationally, about 90,000 workers per week will exhaust their state unemployment insurance benefits starting Dec. 21 without collecting the federal benefit.
“Democrats and Republicans . . . have been doing things to try to get the program reauthorized, but you have the leadership saying no,” he said. “If you have the leadership saying no now and you've got the president silent on the issue, then they're going to be in the hot seat when they get back in January. The leadership seems inclined to let the program expire.”
Hayworth said Congress should be prepared to revisit the issue if some unforeseen calamity affects the economy.
“But right now, what we're seeing is very encouraging news, not only for the short term, but really for the entire year 2004,” he said.