About 2,000 Tri-City area residents may get kicked off unemployment benefits within the next month as two federal programs extending those benefits come to an end.
The state Employment Security Department announced Tuesday that the emergency unemployment compensation program will expire at the end of the year, and Washington no longer will meet the criteria for residents to receive extended benefits.
Unemployed workers who are actively searching for a new job can get unemployment for up to 26 weeks.
Emergency unemployment compensation and extended benefits add up to 73 more weeks of unemployment checks, for a total of 99 weeks, said Sheryl Hutchison, state Employment Security Department communications director. Those receiving the benefits have to apply for each program separately.
In October, 1,450 Benton County residents received emergency unemployment compensation or extended benefits, and there were 550 in Franklin County, Hutchison said. Letters are being sent to notify the participants of the end of the programs.
And 3,068 Benton County residents and 1,162 Franklin County resident were receiving regular unemployment benefits in October, she said.
Statewide, 85,000 people are receiving the extended benefits, with 108,000 receiving regular unemployment benefits.
Judith Gidley, Community Action Connections executive director, said if the programs end, she would expect to see more Benton and Franklin county residents needing help with rent and utilities.
"It's going to be really hard on people," she said.
And the CAC already has a steady demand for its services, she said. So far this month, 100 new households have sought assistance.
The nonprofit has housing and energy programs to help prevent eviction or utility turn off. But money for those programs are getting tight, she said.
"It's like a really vicious circle with federal funding and state funding curtailing what they give to people to provide assistance to those that are finding themselves in that poverty level or working poor," Gidley said. "That money is going down and the need is going up."
For example, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance program will serve about 1,500 fewer households in the Tri-City area this year compared to last year after a 43 percent funding cut, Gidley said. She estimates there are enough dollars in that program to help about 2,052 households.
"There's just not going to be enough money to go around this whole winter," she said.
The state Employment Security Department has phased out the extended benefits programs before, but Congress reinstated the aid retroactively, Hutchison said.
Congress is considering a bill to continue those programs.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is expected to speak on the Senate floor today urging support for maintaining the extended benefits.
According to Murray's website, 1,230 Benton County residents and 510 Franklin County residents could see their benefits cut off during 2012 if Congress fails to reinstate the programs.
-- Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org