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Federal Unemployment Benefits Dry Up For Jobless in SA

Photo: Creative Commons Images, License: N/A

Creative Commons Images

[Update: U.S. Senate Votes to Temporarily Extend Unemployment Benefits]

While most of us popped Champagne corks and rung in the New Year with carefree celebration, more than a million jobless Americans braced themselves for a year without much needed federal financial assistance. As part of a cost-saving compromise in the 2014 budget meant to appease fiscal conservatives, Congress allowed emergency unemployment compensation to expire in late December, removing a vital lifeline for some 1.3 million people nationwide.

In Texas, the cuts automatically affected more than 64,000 residents searching for employment and will end up hurting an additional 106,900 people mid-way through 2014, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. Jobless Texans can still obtain state unemployment insurance but those benefits only last 26 weeks (or about six and a half months), whereas before the expiration they could stay afloat for another few months through the federal program. In other words, when the state funds run out over time, Texans won’t be able to look to the feds for help.

“It’s unfortunate that 1.3 million Americans had to go through Christmas and New Year’s not knowing whether their benefits would be expanded and then finding out, in fact, they hadn’t,” Ed Sills of the Texas AFL-CIO tells the Current. “That’s a horrible way to spend the holidays— worrying about where your next rent payment or next meal is coming from.”

At the outset of the recession in 2008, the government extended the emergency unemployment program to help boost dismal unemployment rates—then hitting a record of 10 percent in 2009. As those figures have begun to steadily fall—today the unemployment rate is at 7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—the government has slowly pulled away aid, bringing the number of weeks someone can be covered by the program down from 99 to 46 last year. But while unemployment is faring better, long-term joblessness is still a glaring problem—the BLS notes that one out of three unemployed people have been out of work for 27 weeks or more.

What does it mean for San Antonio? In Bexar County, tattering the unemployment safety net likely overshadowed the excitement of a new year for around 3,384 jobless SAers, according to estimates from the Democrats of the Congressional Ways and Means Committee. BLS data shows 5.8 percent of San Antonio/New Braunfels residents are unemployed, as of October 2013, the most recent calculation available.

Sills says the unemployment crisis is actually much worse; the jobless rates on the books likely amount to a fraction of the total. “The number is just a really small piece of it because there are others who have gone unemployed much longer, but their benefits expired, so they’re no longer counted. There’s also a large number of people underemployed, doing part-time work that doesn’t cover all their expenses but does bring in some income.”

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