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How to know when your unemployment benefits will run out

December 1, 2010 | 11:01 am

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Congress failed to extend employment benefits by Nov. 30, meaning millions of Americans will stop receiving checks from the government. That could have very real consequences for the economy, a story in Wednesday's Times says.  But unemployment benefits aren't immediately stopping for everyone who receives them -- it's more of a slow fade-out. So how do you know when you're going to lose your benefits?

In good economic times, qualified unemployed receive 26 weeks of benefits. But a series of federal extensions has upped that number to 99 weeks in states such as California. That includes four separate tiers, or extensions, of benefits, and a fifth tier called FED-ED, which is only available in some states with high unemployment rates, including California.

Since Congress did not authorize further extensions, unemployed people will not be able to move from one series of benefits to the next. Here's what that means if you're unemployed:

-- If you have been out of work for a few weeks and are on the first tier of regular unemployment benefits, you will stop receiving a check after your 26 weeks of benefits are up. If your first tier expired or will expire after Nov. 20, 2010, you will not be able to move onto the next tier.

-- If you have been out of work more than 26 weeks and are on your first, second or third tier of benefits, and they expire after Nov. 28, 2010, you will not be able to move onto the next tier. Your checks will stop coming when you reach the end of your tier.

-- If you are on the FED-ED extension, all of your payments will expire Dec. 11. Your checks will stop coming then, regardless of the balance you have on your FED-ED claim.

-- If you have just lost your job and qualify for unemployment benefits, you will receive 26 weeks of benefits, but nothing after that.

California's Employment Development Department has posted a nifty chart on the depressing subject of expiring unemployment benefits.

The Employment Development Department is unable to estimate exactly how many unemployed workers will stop receiving benefits each week, but says 454,000 Californians could experience a halt in benefits by the end of the year. The National Employment Law Project says 2 million workers nationally could lose benefits over the holidays, and 2 million more will be cut off by the end of February.

There is currently no discussion in Congress about extending unemployment benefits beyond the 99 weeks that were available before the extensions expired. About 254,000 unemployed workers in California had run out of all benefits even before the extensions expired.

Even extending regular unemployment benefits seems difficult. Before Thanksgiving, the House tried to pass a three-month reauthorization of benefits, but the attempt failed to gain the two-thirds majority necessary. Sen. Max Baucus introduced a bill in the Senate on Monday that would have reauthorized the programs through the end of 2011, but Sen. Scott Brown on Tuesday objected to allowing the full Senate to vote on the bill.

"While CEO compensation soars and the bubbly is flowing on Wall Street, jobless workers continue to shoulder the burden of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression," said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project.

Separate studies by the U.S. Joint Economic Committee and the Congressional Budget Office have estimated that the failure to pass unemployment benefit extensions could drain $80 billion from the economy.

-- Alana Semuels

Photo: Millions of Californians are still looking for work, even as benefits expire. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

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