Deadline to extend emergency jobless benefits passes

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Congress passed over a midnight deadline to vote to extend emergency jobless benefits. That means thousand of Utahns relying on those benefits for essentials such as food will soon be without them.

The Department of Workforce Services says between now and the end of December about 7,000 people in Utah will run out of their extended unemployment benefits.

These benefits are part of the extended unemployment program, so not everyone is losing jobless benefits.

Once Utahns exhaust their regular 26 weeks of state unemployment they're eligible for up to an additional 47 weeks of aid through federal extensions. It's those 47 weeks of benefits that are expiring.


Chris Ure of Holladay has been looking for almost 4 months.

"I mean every day is a struggle, but you get by and you do what you got to do," he said.

A man who asked not to be identified was at a Department of Workforce Services office Wednesday morning trying to find some kind of work. He used to put up drywall at construction sites and says it's been months since he's landed a job.

"Construction jobs are down, way down. Times are hard. It's Christmas time and can't find nothing out there," he said.

"We anticipate 1,200 to 1,400 individuals per week will be exhausting their emergency unemployment benefits and not be eligible for further benefits unless Congress extends the program," said unemployment insurance director at the Utah Department of Workforce Services Bill Starks.

Unless Congress approves a longer extension, the Labor Department estimates about 2 million people nationwide will be cut off by Christmas.

"It is with the holidays and right now we are kind of experiencing seasonal layoffs too, especially in the construction industry. So yea it's a difficult period for a lot of Utahns," said Starks.

The Department of Workforce Services says it encourages people who may be losing benefits to take advantage of job placement programs. The department offers employment counseling, as well as training for those who qualify.

The average weekly unemployment benefit in the U.S. is $302.90.

There are additional resources available for those who need help.

The Utah Food Bank is preparing for rising demand as more Utahns turn to food pantries to tie them over through these tight times.

"Unemployment has played a huge role in the number of people coming in," said Jim Pugh with the Utah Food Bank. "We're seeing more and more part-time workers, we're seeing more and more homes where we had two working parents and somebody is unemployed and they are just trying to stretch by to get through."

Stark says if Congress does extend the benefits, it could be done retroactively as has been done in the past.

The Department of Workforce Services says if that happens it will contact those who would be eligible.


Story compiled with contributions from Anne Forester and Randall Jeppeson.

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