Hundreds of Vermonters could lose unemployment benefits early if Congress doesn't act. Congress expanded packages after the 2008 economic crash but the offer is set to expire.
Regular unemployment benefits, for which the state spends $1.3 million every week, will not be affected. But the additional 14 weeks made available by the federal government, a $170,000 weekly bill, will expire before the end of December, even if those receiving assistance just began collecting.
Unemployment assistance varies across the United States, but millions will see theirs cut short Dec. 28 if current law isn't tweaked.
"Christmastime is no time for Congress to tell more than one million of these Americans that they have lost this unemployment insurance, which is what will happen if Congress does not act before they leave on their holiday vacation," President Barack Obama said.
In Vermont, 6,300 receive an unemployment benefit check. But the deadline only applies to emergency benefits-- a 14-week extension to the state's regular 26-week limit.
Susan Crosby of Barre is one of about 700 who would be affected.
Reporter Kyle Midura: Where would you be without the benefits you're currently receiving?
Susan Crosby: I would be quite lost; it's a significant part of my income at this time.
Crosby, 63, has worked most of her life in education, but has been searching for work without success since March. She tapped much of her retirement fund, and recently realized the benefits she counted on lasting until July will only cover her through December.
"January first is looking pretty scary at this point," she said.
Congress created the extra unemployment benefits after 2008's economic crash; they are not intended to be permanent.
"It's designed to be a bridge or additional unemployment assistance to those individuals who are still unemployed and having a hard time gaining access to employment again," explained Tracy Phillips, who oversees wage insurance for the Vt. Department of Labor.
Phillips says Congress extended the emergency program 11 times over the last five years. They tell people relying on unemployment to continue to file weekly claims even after the deadline passes, so they can receive benefits if and when Congress acts.
Tracy Phillips: There have been times when the response has been timely. However, more frequently, it's been a retroactive assignment
Kyle Midura: So we might not know by December 28th?
Tracy Phillips: Correct.
Crosby's benefits are set to expire around the 28th anyway, but she stresses that that point wasn't abundantly clear. Her balance only had about $700 left, though by looking at her paperwork it's easy to understand why she thought she was covered through July.
For other folks to ensure they know where they stand, Department of Labor staffers suggest checking the agency's website. They also recommend that those who are confused or want clarification of their eligibility speak in-person with experts at resource centers throughout the state.
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