About 61,000 in La. could see end to benefits
BATON ROUGE - The failure by Congress to extend an emergency jobless benefits package could affect up to 61,000 unemployed Louisiana residents, a state official said Wednesday.
Who loses benefits and when depends upon several factors, including whether a jobless resident is already on the federal emergency program or still receiving initial benefits from the state program, said Jay Augustine, deputy executive director of the Louisiana Workforce Commission.
Currently, an unemployed worker in Louisiana is first eligible for 26 weeks of benefits under a state-administrated program. After that, if still jobless and actively seeking work, there are three tiers of benefits in the federal program - 20 weeks, 14 weeks and 13 weeks - up to a total of 73 weeks, Augustine said.
After 73 weeks, all benefits end in the state.
"There's absolutely nothing more after that," Augustine said.
Augustine said 34,000 jobless Louisiana residents are on the state program, while 27,000 are on some level of the federal program. Those on the state program - unless Congress acts - won't be able to move to the federal program. Those on each tier of the federal program will be able to exhaust their current benefits, but won't be able to move to the next level, Augustine said.
Like in other states, post-economic-meltdown job growth in Louisiana hasn't come anywhere close to providing enough new unemployment. Between October 2009 and October 2010, the state recorded a net gain of 19,200 jobs, the Workforce Commission reported.
Augustine said the state is encouraging those faced with the loss of benefits to consult with one of 60 job centers around Louisiana for employment leads. Although the state hopes Congress will act soon to extend the benefits program, Augustine said the average weekly benefit for those on Louisiana's program is about $193 per week.
"The program is not designed to sustain a person. It's designed to help someone through a transition," Augustine said.
Louisiana State University economist Loren Scott said that the short-term effect of a cutoff would be to reduce personal consumption spending.
"I emphasize the short run because there is economic theory that the longer you extend benefits, the more reluctant people are to seriously hunt for a new job." Scott said. "I'm not trying to diminish the seriousness of this to individuals, but it's what the economic theory and the evidence suggests."