Emergency unemployment checks end for Tri-Citians

Tri-City Herald Staff WriterDecember 12, 2013 

— More than 1,100 Tri-Citians will lose their unemployment benefits Dec. 28 as a federally funded program ends.

But the Tri-Cities has a higher unemployment rate and more people out of work now than when the recession-inspired program began five years ago.

And Tri-City nonprofits that help the area’s poor expect to see their already growing lines of clients swell even more.

The state Employment Security Department announced Thursday that the federally funded Emergency Unemployment Compensation program is expiring.

The program was created by Congress in July 2008. It has been extended 11 times in the past five years, but state officials said they do not expect an extension at this time.

The Emergency Unemployment Compensation program allowed out-of-work job seekers to receive benefit checks for 37 weeks after the regular 26 weeks of benefits expired. Starting Dec. 28, only the initial 26 weeks will be available for most of Washington’s unemployed residents.

In November, the Tri-Cities had an unemployment rate of 7 percent, meaning that more than 9,500 local residents were out of work and actively searching for a job, according to state data.

That’s a more dismal picture than in July 2008, when the Tri-Cities had an unemployment rate of only 5 percent, with almost 6,300 unemployed. Federal stimulus dollars during the recession helped bolster the Tri-Cities economy, with Hanford receiving $1.96 billion in about 30 months.

Then, about 4,000 jobs were lost because of Hanford layoffs in 2011 and 2012.

Three Hanford contractors are expected to lay off up to 450 workers this month and in January. One of those, Washington River Protection Solutions, plans to reduce its work force of about 1,600 employees by up to 250 positions by Jan. 30.

The 1,130 residents of Benton and Franklin counties receiving emergency unemployment compensation benefit checks are being notified of the end of the program by email, mail and phone, state officials said.

WorkSource Columbia Basin representatives have been meeting with emergency benefits recipients to give them information on free services, such as workshops and job hunting help, offered at the Kennewick office, administrator Joe Perez said.

Sina Pierret, president and food bank manager for St. Vincent de Paul Society in Pasco, expects to see more families seek help with food, utilities, housing and prescriptions.

Just last month, 381 new families sought assistance at the society’s Pasco food bank, Pierret said. On Wednesday, the number of people registering caused lines to back up.

Among other services, St. Vincent de Paul helps people who have received a utility shutoff notice keep their utilities on, Pierret said.

At Pasco’s Community Action Connections, executive director Judith Gidley expects to see more people seeking help to avoid eviction and utility shutoffs, she said.

“A lot of people barely make it by,” Gidley said.

Community Action Connections has just started the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program season, Gidley said. Last year, it helped more than 2,300 households with energy bills, and she expects to help more this year.

“I think that as winter goes on and it gets colder, people are going to be in need,” she said.

About 12 percent of Benton County’s population and 21 percent of Franklin County lives in poverty, Gidley said.

This year, Community Action Connections has served almost 22,400 households, with some receiving more than one kind of assistance, Gidley said. Those families included about 45,600 people.

Community Action Connections can help families in need receive diapers, necessary prescriptions, coats and some emergency supplies, shelter, first-month rent and deposits, apply for food stamps and childcare for homeless parents, Gidley said.

The end of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation also affects 35 people in Adams County, 7 in Columbia County, 291 in Grant County, 113 in Walla Walla County and 1,028 in Yakima County.

w Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service