The 99ers are no more. There are still plenty of people who have been out of work for 99 weeks or more, to be sure. But the 99 weeks of unemployment secured by one tier of extended benefits have ended. This has affected a half-million workers, and it’s a direct result of the failure to change “look-back” rules the last time that benefits were extended.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains.
After this week, no state will provide additional weeks of emergency federal unemployment insurance (UI) payments through the Extended Benefits (EB) program, as federal UI benefits continue to wind down. As we’ve explained previously, EB will no longer be available in any state, not because most states’ economies have improved to anywhere near pre-recession conditions, but because they have not significantly deteriorated in the past three years.
Idaho was the last state offering EB, but its most recent three-month average unemployment rate of 7.7 percent did not meet the necessary criterion of being at least 10 percent higher than the comparable rate in any of the three previous years. As a result, Idaho “triggered off” EB as of the week ending July 21 and will make its final EB payments this week.
The highest level of unemployment benefits in the states is now 79 weeks, and that’s available in just 7 states and the District of Columbia. Eligibility has fallen to as low as 46 weeks in 11 states.
If the extended benefits program was phased out because things were getting markedly better, that’s one thing. But the benefit program ended because things stopped getting so much worse. If the three-year “look-back” to determine eligibility was extended to four years, then most of the states that saw the 99 week program expire would still have it.
It’s an open question whether unemployment benefits between 26 and 79 weeks will get extended at the end of the year. So this could get a lot worse. And of course, unemployment benefits go to people that spend them by necessity, so they serve as not only a great safety net and a way to allow people the time they need to secure new employment, but also a good stimulus for the economy.