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Nearly 25,000 Marylanders Lose Unemployment Benefits

Congress may revisit the issue when members return from recess.

Long-term federal unemployment benefits ended last weekend for thousands of Maryland residents. File | Patch
Long-term federal unemployment benefits ended last weekend for thousands of Maryland residents. File | Patch

Unemployed Maryland residents this week are having to stretch thin budgets even more.

Emergency unemployment benefits, approved at the height of the recession, expired Dec. 28.

Without a one-year extension – and House Democrats failed before the holidays to get the $26 billion extension before Congress recessed for the year – 25,000 Maryland residents immediately lost their benefits, says WJZ TV.

"It's traumatic and it's heart-wrenching, not knowing how you're going to support your family," mother Wenetha Leslie of Lauraville told the Baltimore Sun. She’s been out of work since June and looking for opportunities to work with at-risk children and teens.

Before Congress allowed the extended benefits to expire, individuals who lost their jobs in Maryland could collect unemployment checks for nearly 16 months, including 26 weeks of state benefits followed by 37 weeks of federal payments, the newspaper reported.

The checks for those who have exhausted their 26-week state benefits will stop immediately. And over the next six months, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates another 28,500 Marylanders will run out of their state benefits, the Sun says.

Across the entire country, 1.3 million Americans were expected to immediately lose their long-term federal unemployment insurance coverage Saturday. 

Why? Congress passed a budget compromise before Christmas that did not include extending the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. 

The federal program was started in June of 2008, when Congress approved a 13-week extension. As the recession got worse, Congress passed additional expansions. But those expansions are gone as of Saturday. 

The Congressional Budget Office estimates by not renewing the program, the country will see a savings of $25 billion a year.

President Obama is pushing to renew the program. Gene Sperling, the director of Obama's National Economic Council, said this week, "Never before have we abruptly cut off emergency unemployment insurance when we faced this level of long-term unemployment, and it would be a blow to these families and our economy."

Maryland’s November unemployment rate is 6.4 percent, down 0.3 of a percentage point from October’s unemployment rate of 6.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The U.S. unemployment figure is 7 percent—though some say it's even higher, with some people giving up entirely on getting a job.

If you have questions about unemployment insurance in Maryland, you can call 800-827-4839.

What do you think of Congress saving the country around $25 billion a year by cutting off federal long-term unemployment assistance? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

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