Government takes a bite out of unemployment checks

The average long-term unemployment insurance check in Kansas is lower by an average of $35 and as much as $49 a week because of federal budget cuts.

In Missouri, long-term recipients of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits are getting no checks at all for the weeks of June 1, July 27 and Sept. 21.

The two states, along with the 48 others, have each cut some jobless benefits because of the federal sequestration that began March 1.

According to a report released Tuesday by the National Employment Law Project, 8 percent of about $30 billion in non-Medicare budget cuts caused by the sequestration is coming out of the federal benefits program for the long-term unemployed.

In Kansas, the long-term program had about 7,800 recipients; in Missouri, it had about 32,300, according to the latest available data gathered for the report.

The cuts “can be the difference between making — or not making — a rent, car or mortgage payment,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, an organization that advocates extending the federal benefits program.

The federal unemployment program affects 3.8 million workers who have exhausted their regular state unemployment benefits but remain eligible for the extended federal program. The program is scheduled to end Dec. 31 unless Congress renews it.

The sequestration does not affect benefits paid under regular state unemployment insurance programs.

Nationally, the average Emergency Unemployment Compensation recipient gets a check for $289 a week, a cut of about 15 percent because of the sequestration. In Kansas, the average recipient gets $323 a week. In Missouri, the average payment is $224 a week, according to the report.

The law project’s research found that states took vastly different approaches to handling the sequestration cuts affecting their jobless programs.

Ten states chose to reduce benefits only for newly eligible recipients. North Carolina changed unrelated state laws that disqualified its residents from receiving the extended federal benefits. Maine cut the last eight weeks of benefits eligibility; Florida cut the last four.

Typical benefit cuts for the federal program in other states hovered around 17 percent. Maryland’s and New Jersey’s cuts were the highest, at 22.2 percent.

The law project questioned the economic wisdom of cutting unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed.

“For example, the average weekly benefit cut of $32 for 160,700 unemployed New Yorkers will drain $5.1 million in consumption per week from New York’s economy,” the report said. “In New Jersey, where the average benefit cut is $85, the corresponding weekly reduction in consumption will be $10.2 million.”

Sequestration cuts to Federal Emergency unemployment checks
State Date cuts effective Weekly percentage cut Average weekly benefit Sequester cut to average benefit Number of recipients
KansasMarch 3110.7 %$323$357,800
MissouriJune 1No payments for weeks of June 1, July 27, Sept. 21*$224*32,300
Source: National Employment Law Project *If a Missouri recipient is eligible for benefits from June 1 through September, the period the sequestration covers, the cuts would equal a 16.6 percent cut.