Congress is on the verge of extending federal unemployment payments to out-of-work Americans, which could benefit up to 10,000 Idahoans whose benefits have expired in the past six weeks. The extended federal benefits ran out at the end of May, and the Idaho Department of Labor’s Bob Fick said those people could see payments from those past six weeks within the next month, if they still haven’t found work.
All of Idaho’s members of Congress have opposed the current plan to extend unemployment benefits because it would add billions to the federal deficit. “Congress should fund for emergencies like unemployment extensions, but it should do so in a manner that doesn’t push even more spending onto future generations,” said Sen. Mike Crapo, who joined with 38 Senate Republicans in opposing the plan. Crapo said that unspent money from the 2009 stimulus plan could fund the six-month extension of unemployment benefits without adding debt.
The plan is expected to be approved by the U.S. House and signed by President Barack Obama this week. The late extension by Congress impacted thousands of Idahoans, though weekly payments will be made retroactively to eligible jobseekers. “We’ve lost about 10,000 to the expiration of the extension, and we’re losing 1,500 a week,” Fick said.
The labor department, which distributes state and federal unemployment benefits, could need several weeks to adjust its database of residents eligible for unemployment benefits due to an aging computer system that manages the database. “The computer system’s close to 30 years old,” Fick told IdahoReporter.com. “It’s been patched up a bunch of times already because of the way Congress has handled the extensions and this stop-start, stop-start situation.” Fick said labor department employees will need to add new work-arounds to the system, because it will initially reject new payments to people who were previously marked as having exhausted their benefits.
The labor department reported in June that 22,000 Idahoans were receiving extended federal benefits, which can last up to 73 weeks beyond Idaho’s benefits, which can last 26 weeks. Not all of those people stopped receiving weekly payments when the benefits elapsed after May 29 because of a tiered system that makes people eligible for federal benefits for a set number of weeks.
Fick said 17,600 Idahoans are currently receiving state unemployment benefits. He said unemployment claims usually go up in August, and that the peak month for unemployment claims is January.