A 99-week limit for jobless benefits

Hundreds of people looking for employment wait in line to attend a job fair in New York, New York.

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: Since the darkest days of the recession, Congress has been voting to keep unemployment benefits flowing -- extension after extension. But all that assistance for laid-off workers comes at a price. The tab this year alone is expected to hit $200 billion. Money that will keep checks flowing to people who've run out of state benefits. But there is a limit for people who've been unemployed the longest. In states with the worst unemployment figures that limit is now 99 weeks. And it appears that number won't go into triple-digits.

Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman reports.


MITCHELL HARTMAN: Funding will run out for maximum extended benefits in June.

And every time Congress has to spend more, Republicans grumble about the deficit, says Stuart Rothenberg. He publishes the Rothenberg Political Report.

STUART ROTHENBERG: We just don't have the resources to do this. The money's not there, and we're already in debt. Everybody's fighting for every nickel, and so it would be difficult to extend benefits.

And that means, starting this summer, hundreds of thousands of people a month will run out, says Andrew Stettner of the National Employment Law Project.

ANDREW STETTNER: Individuals are going to be turning to their local communities or their states for aid, they're going to cause increased costs and economic instability through homelessness and hunger.

Plus, those people have less to spend on rent, food, gasoline.

But there is an argument that paying benefits for longer actually keeps the unemployment rate high. That's because people who get a check don't search as hard for work. And they're picky.

DENISE FULLER: For us, there was a strong consideration as to what job he would be willing to accept.

That's Denise Fuller. After her husband lost his job, the Oregon couple survived largely on his extended unemployment for more than a year.

FULLER: If he had been offered a job that didn't pay something pretty close to what he was making on unemployment, we couldn't have afforded for him to take the job.

Fuller's husband was finally offered a temp job recently. He took it. He and his wife decided that was a better bet than staying on the benefits roller coaster.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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