We’re pleased to welcome George Wentworth of the National Employment Law Project to answer reader questions about unemployment insurance. We’ll do our best to get answers to any questions posted as comments. If you post a question, please be sure to mention what state you’re in, since different states do things differently.
The questions below relate to specific aspects of the federal unemployment insurance extensions currently in place. Before answering these specific questions, let me provide some general background and an update on current efforts in Congress to reauthorize these programs.
All workers get regular state unemployment insurance benefits for up to 26 weeks. (Note: In states paying less than 26 weeks of UI benefits, unemployed workers get a proportionately smaller share of benefits under federal extension programs.) Generally, workers then draw Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) followed by Extended Benefits (EB), where available. There are up to four “tiers” of Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) extensions available depending upon state unemployment levels. Extended Benefits are not available in all states.
EUC Tiers I and II
Unemployed workers in all states qualify for benefits under EUC Tier I and Tier II. Tier I provides 20 weeks of benefits and Tier II provides 14 weeks for a total of 34 weeks. For 3 states with (3‐month average) unemployment rates under 6.0 percent (NE, ND, and SD), this 34 weeks represents the total available extension weeks.
EUC Tier III
In states with high unemployment (defined as 6.0 percent average 3‐month total unemployment or higher), unemployed workers can become eligible for an additional 13 weeks of benefits known as EUC Tier III. Currently, there are 47 states (all except NE, ND, and SD), as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, in which unemployed workers can qualify for EUC Tier III.
EUC Tier IV
In states with 3‐month average total unemployment rates at or above 8.5 percent, unemployed workers can qualify for 6 additional weeks of extension benefits under EUC Tier IV. The 28 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, currently paying Tier IV benefits are AL,AK, AZ, CA, CT, DE, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, KY, MA, MI, MS, MO, NV, NJ, NY, NC, OH, OR, PA, RI, SC, TN, WA, and WV.
Extended Benefits (EB)
Finally, a separate program, called the Extended Benefits (EB) program is currently triggered on in 39 states. There are either 13 or 20 additional weeks of benefits, under the EB program depending upon which EB triggers are part of each state’s UI law and each state’s unemployment level. As of January 31, 2010, 28 states and the District of Columbia are paying 20 weeks of EB (AL,AK AZ,CA,CT, DE, GA, ID,IL,IN,KY,ME,MA, MI,NV,NJ,NY,NC,OH,OR,PA,RI,SC,TN,TX, WA, WV, and WI). Seven states and Puerto Rico are providing 13 weeks of EB (CO, KS, MN, NH, NM, VT, and VA).
Current Legislative Efforts to Reauthorize UI Extensions
Current federal extensions (including both the Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Extended Benefits programs), the additional $25 per week in each benefits check (known as Federal Additional Compensation (FAC)), and 65% COBRA subsidies for jobless workers are set to expire at the end of February 2010. The House has passed an extension of these provisions until June of this year in its Jobs Bill – and now the Senate needs to act.
We at the National Employment Law Project (NELP) are urging Congress to extend the EUC program, full federal funding of Extended Benefits, the $25 per week in Federal Additional Compensation, and the 65% 15-month COBRA subsidy through the end of 2010. Economists agree that unemployment will remain at extremely high levels through the end of this calendar year; therefore it is important to extend this program through 2010. While there appears to be majority support for reauthorization, there are also strong indications that Congress will likely extend these programs for a number of months, not for the rest of the year..
These benefits are set to expire on February 28, 2010, but in fact, if Congress does not extend these important benefits before Friday, February 19, 2010, states will have to start sending out notices to claimants that their benefits are expiring, and they will have to start reprogramming their computer systems to shut down with EUC, EB and FAC benefits. Were Congress to act after the 19th of February, there would be substantial delays in getting state programs back up and running and the disruption of benefits would be devastating to families and communities.
(1) eieio writes:
Out of work since Dec 2007 and about to come to the end of the line. Moved from CA to TN to have a better chance at a job with no such luck.
If no Tier 5, no house or food. Will have to file bankruptcy. Had to give up COBRA due to out of state move and couldn’t afford conversion policy. NOW WHAT?
(2) Dcarter08 writes:
I am 52 and have been unemployed since 11-07. I am down to my last unemployment check if a tier 5 is not put in place asap. I will be homeless by months end with no where to go and no way of paying my bills, what should I expect?
Answer: Unfortunately, it does not appear that there is any likelihood that the legislation pending in Congress will create a new Tier V of the EUC program. Although the number of workers who are categorized as long-term unemployed (out of work more than 6 months) has grown to over 40% of all unemployed, both the House and Senate are focusing on reauthorization of the EUC program as it currently exists.
While there is currently no legislative proposal for a Tier V of EUC, this is an idea that will become more compelling when Congress begins to hear stories of workers exhausting the last of their benefits. That is why it is important to tell your senator or representative your story now. NELP will continue to advocate for benefits and programs that will provide assistance to those workers whose benefits expire in the months ahead.
(3) Nydarling writes:
I also think they need to address workers laid off at the end of August 2009. In New York, if you were laid off after August 24, 2009 you get 26 weeks unemployment, that’s all ! I believe this inequity needs to be addressed, we are in need too, having been laid off in some of the highest time of unemployment. Extensions only being given to those out the longest are not fair……my bills will not go away when my unemployment ends in March !!!! Give me the same year and half that others have had!
(4) wrtrgal5 writes:
I agree with nydarling. Those of us who were laid off at the end of August 2009 get 26
weeks unemployment, which ends this month. What about us???
Answer: Both of you point out one of the greatest inequities that would result if Congress did not act to reauthorize the EUC program past February 28th. As workers who would exhaust their basic 26 weeks of state UI benefits after February 28th, you would not be able to access any tier of EUC unless Congress reauthorizes the program and sets a later expiration date. Depending on what state you are filing in, you might have entitlement to Extended Benefits (EB) – see above for listing of EB states. Finally, it is worth noting that claimants who start a tier of EUC before February 28th can collect the balance of their entitlements under that tier under phase-out provisions of the law.
(5) Cd53218 writes:
I am at the end of Tier 3 and was told by the unemployment office here in Wisconsin we are NO longer eligible to receive any more benefits past this.. OK I’m a little freaked out, confused as to what I’m suppose to do next… I’ve written to Washington, called my Senator and Governor…what more can we do?
Answer: Because the 3-month average unemployment rate in Wisconsin just fell below 8.5%, Wisconsin has triggered off Tier IV of the EUC program. However, Wisconsin is still triggered on to the Extended Benefits (EB) program and there are 20 weeks of EB payable to claimants exhausting EUC benefits. You should contact the Wisconsin UI agency about possible entitlement to EB.
No legal advice is being given and no attorney-client relationship is created by the use of this information. An attorney should be consulted for more detailed information in individual cases. The National Employment Law Project (NELP) and Working America (WA) shall not be liable for the information provided herein, or for the results obtained from the use of such information.