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1,500 in region lose jobless benefits as 99-week window closes

Saturday, April 3, 2010
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An estimated 1,500 Capital Region residents got their last unemployment benefit check this week.

Known as the “99-weekers,” they represent the group of people who have been receiving jobless payments for 99 weeks and are at the end of the collection road, since there is no other extension plan or tier of additional benefits left.

“The longest you can get on unemployment insurance is 99 weeks. Since there’s no extension beyond that, we’ll start seeing more people falling off,” said Ann Luby, a state Labor Department spokeswoman.

The state said March 28 marked the first day this group of 99-weekers certified for their last check. Going forward, about 100 99-weekers will lose benefits per week in the Capital Region. This week’s batch was much bigger because it reached 99 weeks through a variety of benefit programs and extensions.

The 99 weeks of unemployment payments are federal benefits administered by the state. Regular state unemployment insurance benefits are available for only 26 weeks, regardless of how the economy is faring.

The state has numerous extended unemployment benefit programs with various time frames and deadlines for benefit collection.

“The expiration date depends on when people applied for benefits. Everybody is at a different point at a different phase,” said state Labor Department press officer Michelle Duffy.

February’s unemployment rate for the Capital Region was 7.7 percent, lower than the state’s 8.8 percent and the nation’s 9.7 percent but higher than the 7.2 percent in February 2009. More than 35,000 people in the Capital Region are currently jobless, according to state figures.

For additional programs and assistance, New Yorkers facing a loss of unemployment benefits should go to the state’s Web site, myBenefits.ny.gov, which is administered by the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, according to Luby. The state Labor Department says now is the time to re-energize the job search and utilize programs.

Those who complete the forms online do not face public exposure in any way as they apply for a variety of assistance, including food stamps, heat assistance and health insurance, she said.

“The information is confidential,” Luby said.

Additional benefit extensions that now face expiration Monday include one providing COBRA health care benefits and a temporary program providing a $25 weekly benefit increase, both of which were extended last month by Congress, according to the state Labor Department.

Without federal intervention, another group of people will be affected next week: 11,700 New Yorkers seeking to move into higher tiers of unemployment benefits that extend the length of time they can collect benefits.

“Without new federal legislation, they will not be able to move into additional extended benefit programs,” the state said. Of the 11,700, there are 7,300 people who would have only collected 26 weeks of regular benefits funded by the state.

Luby said the state’s myBenefits Web site is mostly an income test, which may disqualify two-income families even if they are struggling with rent and household bills when one of the wage earners becomes unemployed.

“They may not qualify for benefits. But a lot of families — working families — now qualify for food stamps,” she said. “And most of the people we’re seeing that are falling off [unemployment rolls] are on the lower end of the earning spectrum,” Luby said.

Luby clarified the lower end of the earning spectrum as those making less than $30,000 who “will likely qualify because their earnings are so low,” she said.

Congress will not likely seek to extend benefits for those who have exhausted the full 99-week unemployment benefit period, she said.

“Congress is out of session for two weeks. They will be taking this up again when they go back into session. There are different tiers of unemployment, some eligible for 26 weeks and others eligible for more than that. They are looking to address those who qualify for less than 99 weeks,” Luby said. “The big issue is that we have to start creating jobs and getting people back to work.”

 
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