On December 28, 2013, about 1.3 million unemployed people will lose federal unemployment benefits. Congress is currently on break after letting a program expire that pays federal benefits to unemployed Americans when their state benefits run out. This one hundred percent (100%) federally funded program called Emergency Unemployment Compensation (hereinafter "EUC"), was created on June 30, 2008, by President George W. Bush, whereby Congress authorized unemployment compensation to help the jobless cope with the recession. A year later, President Barack Obama signed a law giving the unemployed an additional fourteen (14) weeks of benefits. At the height of the recession, Americans could get ninety-nine (99) weeks of unemployment pay; but that number has since dipped to a maximum of seventy-three (73) weeks.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.1 million people are counted as "long-term unemployed," defined as out of a job for six (6) months or more. This number makes up thirty six point one percent (36.1) of the total unemployed. Besides those in December, 850,000 people will run out of state unemployment benefits in the first quarter of 2014. About 1 million more without work will lose state benefits by June 2014.
The EUC program has been expanded or reauthorized eleven (11) times, most recently, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 extended the expiration date of the EUC program to January 1, 2014. Even with the current EUC program, the unemployed saw their benefits reduced this summer because of forced sequester cuts. All federal unemployment benefits were trimmed down to $256.00 per week. The length of the EUC benefits has also been reduced. In May 2012, all fifty (50) states and the District of Columbia offered up to thirty-four (34) weeks of federal benefits, with forty (40) states offering forty-seven (47) weeks of EUC funds. Now thirty-six (36) states offer up to twenty-eight (28) weeks and only two states offer the maximum of forty-seven (47) weeks, the rest of the states offer only up to fourteen (14) weeks.
State benefits in Colorado average about $300 per week for 26 weeks. Currently, in Colorado, once a worker has exhausted the allowable state benefits, they may qualify for additional federal benefits. An unemployment worker must apply for federal benefits which require a few additional steps for eligibility including: 1) Complete an Orientation; 2) Review Career Handouts; 3) Complete a Self-Assessment; 4) Work-Search Log; and, 5) One-on-One Appointment. These federal benefits are paid throughout phases called "Tiers." Initially, after exhausting state benefits, the worker must apply for Tier 1 benefits. Tier 1 allows for a continuation of benefits for up to fourteen (14) weeks. If you exhaust Tier 1 and are still eligible, you will be automatically transitioned to Tier 2. Tier 2 allows for a continuation of benefits for up to an additional fourteen (14) weeks. Because Colorado's three-month average unemployment rate is under seven percent (7%), Coloradoans no longer qualify for Tier 3 benefits. Therefore, the maximum weekly amount of benefits in Colorado, until December 31, 2013, is fifty-two (52) weeks. After December 31, 2013, or if there is no additional legislation passed by Congress, unemployment benefits will be reduced to the state benefits only or twenty-six (26) weeks of benefits.
When Congress reconvenes in early January, there could be a push for a retroactive extension of the benefits. In the interim, unemployed workers in Colorado should continue reporting their hours every two (2) weeks to the Department of Labor, to keep the claim active, in case Congress passes an extension. If you have a question about unemployment or your eligibility for benefits, contact a lawyer to discuss your legal options.