Jobless in NW Face Bleak Start to New Year

By Tom Bacon

It'll be a bleak start to the new year for tens of thousands of jobless people in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Long-term unemployment benefits expire at the end of this month, shutting off the sole source of income for more than one-point-three million chronically unemployed Americans.

The end of the federal aid program will hit about 2,600 people in Idaho, roughly 21,000 in Oregon and more than 24,000 in Washington. Moreover, expiration of the program means that about 190,000 people in those three states will not be able to get extended benefits for the first time starting next year.

The long-term unemployed benefit program was set up in 2008 in response to the job crisis sparked by the Great Recession. Workers unable to find jobs could collect benefits for up to 99 weeks - but now that the program is expiring, unemployment insurance will default to the old standard of 26 weeks nationwide.

Just this past month, more than 4-million Americans - about a third of the total 11-million people unemployed - had been without work longer than 26 weeks.

In Congress, the issue is highly partisan. Most Democratic lawmakers and the White House supported an extension of the benefits, but the issue was not included in the new budget agreement hammered out on the Senate side by Washington Senator Patty Murray. Republicans in Congress demanded that Democrats come up with other budget cuts to pay for - or offset - any unemployment benefit extension.
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