Published: Monday, November 29, 2010, 10:51 PM ??? Updated: Monday, November 29, 2010, 10:52 PM
Extended unemployment benefits that last week paid a total of $13 million to 56,000 out-of-work Alabamians will start phasing out next week if Congress doesn't reauthorize them, state officials said today.
Without reauthorization, someone filing for jobless benefits now could collect them continuously for no more than 26 weeks, a far cry from the 99 weeks of benefits that some Alabamians have collected since federally financed extended benefits started in July 2008.
The state of Alabama pays jobless benefits for the first 26 weeks a laid-off worker is out of work and seeking employment. After that, the federal government since 2008 has picked up the tab for more and more extended benefits, up to an additional 73 weeks.
The extended unemployment benefits since 2008 have paid unemployed Alabamians a total of $1.27 billion, state officials said.
So far, about 17,700 Alabamians have received 99 straight weeks of unemployment compensation thanks mainly to the federally financed extensions, said Hoyt Russell, head of the unemployment compensation division of the state Department of Industrial Relations.
The extended benefits wouldn't end all at once if Congress doesn't act. They are awarded in tiers, or segments, as short as six weeks and as long as 20 weeks. Starting next week, if Congress doesn't act, many people will be able to exhaust all the benefits available from the tier they're in now but won't be able to move on to collect another tier of benefits.
Some people are in the last, six-week-long tier of benefits and would stop getting payments anyway because they will have gotten 99 weeks of benefits at the end of that tier.
But without reauthorization, as many as 50,000 people now collecting extended benefits won't be able to move on to the next tier of benefits, said Tom Surtees, head of the Department of Industrial Relations.
Also, without reauthorization, the roughly 34,000 people still in the first 26 weeks of benefits provided by the state won't be able to get any federally financed extended benefits. If they use up 26 weeks of benefits they won't get any more if Congress doesn't act.
Congress let extended unemployment compensation benefits lapse earlier this year before approving an extension in July, and people who missed weekly payments received lump sums to make up for it.
But Surtees said he had no idea if or when Congress will once again extend unemployment benefits in Alabama and other states to a maximum of 99 weeks. "I have none," he said.
People whose benefits phase out because of inaction by Congress should keep certifying each week with the department, by phone or online, whether they're still jobless and still willing to take a full-time job, industrial relations spokeswoman Tara Hutchison said.
She said resumption of payments, if Congress once again extends benefits retroactively, would be much easier for people who keep certifying with the state.
"We'd like to encourage everyone to file their weekly certifications so that in the event Congress does re-extend the extensions, DIR will already have all the information on file. It will allow the department to pay benefits more quickly," Hutchison said.
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