Unless Lawmakers Act, 236,000 Workers In Nine States Will Prematurely Lose Unemployment Benefits

Democrats in Congress, along with the Obama administration, have had to go to great lengths on multiple occasions to extend unemployment benefits for out of work Americans, even with the labor market incredibly weak and fragile. Congressional Republicans have repeatedly blocked benefit extensions, and only agreed to the last extension in return for Democrats agreeing to extend the Bush tax cuts for the richest two percent of Americans.

However, even after all that, there are still hundreds of thousands of Americans who may be denied their extended benefits. According to a new report from the National Employment Law Project, nine states have yet to enact the required legislation allowing them to draw on the final tier of extended benefits provided by the federal government:

A share of $876 million is waiting to be tapped by Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming to provide 13-20 weeks of federal unemployment insurance — the extra and typically last leg of benefits that jobless workers can receive if they have exhausted their regular state and federal unemployment insurance without finding work. If the federal funds go unused, nearly 236,000 long-term unemployed workers will continue to be prematurely cut off the full range of unemployment insurance Congress approved in 2009 — a maximum of 99 weeks in high-unemployment states — and their states will lose out on millions in economic activity to support local business and job creation.

These last 13-20 weeks of unemployment insurance are available to high unemployment states, provided that state law allows for them. These nine states, unlike 26 other eligible states, have yet to change state law to accommodate for extended benefits. According to the latest data, the unemployment rate is above six percent in all of these states; it stands at 8 percent in Louisiana and 10.1 percent in Mississippi.

Of course, some of the governors in these states have scored political points by grandstanding against unemployment benefit extensions. Govs. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) and Haley Barbour (R-MS), for instance, both made a big show out of “rejecting” extended unemployment benefits made available by the Recovery Act.

Last week’s report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that just 36,000 jobs were created last month. 43.8 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for at least six months, and there are still about five job seekers for every available job opening. To cut off benefits — and force even more economic contraction as people who would have been spending benefits don’t — is absolute folly.