President Obama’s jobs package includes another extension of federal unemployment benefits. The extension would cover an estimated six million workers nationwide, including thousands of Iowans. There have been three extensions or what are called “emergency tiers” of unemployment benefits.
Iowa Workforce Development spokesperson Kerry Koonce says emergency tiers come after the first 26 weeks of state unemployment benefits expire. Koonce says we’ve had throughout this recession since the middle of 2008 since the tiers became available, 161,549 people as of the end of July that received a payment in tier one. About 42,000 workers eventually exhausted all three tiers before losing the checks, whether or not they had found work.
Vicki Heggen of Des Moines showed up at a Hy-Vee job fair recently looking for a new job. Heggen says the extensions came as a surprise.
She says she was expecting 26 weeks of unemployment and then got a letter saying I was eligible for another 14-16 weeks. She says she then got another letter saying her benefits were extended for another 12 weeks in tier three.
Heggen says the extra benefits have helped as she was ready to dip into her savings, but would get another letter about the extension and says it covers her basics for her house and utilities and food. She says the tricky part is using savings for health care premiums, which she says for an individual policy are pricy.
It will be up to Congress whether or not to extend the federal unemployment benefits. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, says there’s been plenty of studies that unemployment benefits keep unemployment higher for a longer period of time because there’s not the incentive to go out and look for jobs.
But Koonce at workforce development says in normal times workers on average typically get help for fewer than 12 weeks. Senator Grassley says he has not entirely ruled out the federal extension. He says he can see it passing if it’s part of a package that senators think will bring unemployment down.