The expiration of the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program means 1,380 people in the Wichita metro area will lose unemployment benefits on Dec. 28, according to the Kansas Department of Labor.
They have been receiving an average of $302 per week, according to the state.
For the state as a whole, 3,786 people are set to lose benefits. That’s about 4 percent of the nearly 90,000 people statewide in all unemployment compensation programs.
In Kansas, the program extends unemployment benefits for 14 weeks beyond the normal 26 weeks, and was signed into law in June 2008 by then-President George W. Bush. Most recently, the program was extended for another year as part of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, signed into law by President Barack Obama on Jan. 3. Programs offering even more weeks of compensation have already expired in Kansas as the unemployment rate fell.
The fate of the program has been hotly contested in Congress. Many Democrats support its re-authorization, saying too many people remain out of work to end the program. Republicans have said it encourages the unemployed not to seek work. It was left out of the recently approved budget bill.
The unemployment rate in Wichita area in November was 5.1 percent, but that is more a result of declining numbers of people who are not working, but are actively searching for work.
Nationally, 1.3 million people are set to lose unemployment insurance benefits with on Dec. 28, with an additional 3.5 million Americans losing benefits in 2014. The U.S. unemployment rate was 7 percent in November.
U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, said he’s heard that the Democratically controlled Senate might consider a reauthorization bill, but he’s doubtful the Republican-controlled House would.
Pompeo said it’s time to move past “emergency” federal unemployment benefits and go back to the regular state-run systems.
“We’ve never in the history of the U.S. continued at the federal level unemployment compensation when the unemployment rate has fallen as dramatically as it has,” he said. “It was put in place during the peak of the recession, but now we’ve reached a point where the states can decide if they want to continue those benefits.”
Keith Lawing, executive director of the Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas, said that overall the disappearance of those benefits will be a negative for both the individuals and the community.
“The people on unemployment insurance do not want to be there,” he said. “They are there because they can’t find jobs at or close to the salary they had previously. Having this expire will mean they will have to take jobs far less than they were earning before. I can see the rationale behind it. I’m not being critical, but for the individuals and the overall economy, I think it’s a negative.”