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End of emergency unemployment benefits means final checks for thousands in Washington

Flickr, by khalilshah
Nearly 100,000 unemployed people in Washington were on emergency benefits before the federal program expired. There are five job seekers for every open position. The national unemployment rate is 9.6%.

Nearly 100,000 people in Washington will get letters this week, letting them know how soon their unemployment benefits will run out.  Emergency assistance for the long-term jobless has expired.

Not quite half of the 230,000 people in Washington who are currently unemployed were drawing the emergency benefits. 

The federal government authorized the extra payments as part of the recovery act in February 2009.  Under the program, long-term jobless could receive checks for up to 99 weeks– a year longer than normal. 

Sheryl Hutchinson, with the state's Employment Security Department, says, even with the emergency program in place, this summer her agency started seeing a spike in long-term unemployed who exhausted all available benefits.

"This recession has lasted a long time. People have been running out for months now. And currently, it's about 27,000 people in our state who could not find a job before they ran out of benefits. We know that number is going to grow much faster in the weeks ahead."

Already, she says, about a thousand people in Washington per week exhaust all of their benefits. 

Proponents of the program say unemployment checks boost the economy because they're spent right away on essentials.  They want an extension of the federal program through the end of next year.    

Critics say extended benefits contribute billions to the federal deficit and encourage people not to work.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.