Unless Congress acts, the program will end on Dec. 28

When much of the country was facing substantial unemployment, the federal government approved emergency unemployment compensation (EUC) benefits to help displaced workers weather the recession.

Now, those benefits are due to expire before the end of this month, cutting off 20,900 Oregon workers, about 157 of which live in Crook County.

The EUC program provides unemployed Oregonians up to 73 weeks of additional benefits beyond the 26 allotted by the state in four tiers. The program has faced similar deadlines in the past, at which time Congress voted to extend the program. Continuing the benefits beyond Dec. 28 will again require approval from lawmakers.

So far, no extension has been introduced, which worries Oregon Democratic Senators. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden.

“Oregon’s working families have been hit hard by the recession,” Merkley said, “and if Congress doesn’t act, they will take another big blow in January.”

Wyden does not believe the economy has recovered enough to end EUC benefits.

“We need to continue to extend those unemployment benefits until we get to the jobs and the economy that people in Oregon deserve,” said Wyden’s spokesman, Tom Towslee.

Rep. Greg Walden, who represents most of Eastern Oregon in the House of Representatives, does not feel the same way.

“The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says that an extension proposal in the House could actually increase the length of unemployment for some Americans and would increase the budget deficit by $25 billion,” he said. “I have strong concerns about yet another extension of this ‘temporary’ program, which has already operated for five and a half years that the National Bureau of Economic Research found reduces unemployed workers’ chances of finding new work.”

If the benefits do come to an end as scheduled, the impact could be felt more greatly in Crook County than the rest of Oregon. Damon Runberg, Central Oregon’s regional economist for the Oregon Employment Department, said that the EUC program will eventually end once the economy reaches a certain state or federal level. However, whenever that happens, chances are good that Crook County will still face a greater unemployment problem than most areas and face greater consequences.

“Whatever that level is (where EUC benefits end), Crook County is still going to be at much higher levels of unemployment,” Runberg said. “I could imagine it would disproportionately affect Crook County more than it would in other parts of the state.”

As the deadline nears, the Oregon Employment Department has ramped up efforts to help people who are about to lose their EUC benefits.

“For the majority of folks, what we do is each of our local offices ... they get a printout every week of people who are about ready to exhaust their benefits,” said Craig Spivey, public information representative. “They get on the phone and call them, and we are very proactive and aggressive at getting in touch with people who are about to exhaust. It doesn’t sneak up on them. They get a lot of communication from us along the way.”

The employment department personnel meet with claimants and utilize resources to help them find their next job.

For Walden, the solution lies in bolstering job creation in Oregon.

“Congress should focus on proposals that actually put Oregonians back to work,” he said, “like the Central Oregon Jobs and Water Security Act I wrote to provide water and power to Prineville for job creation.”

Meanwhile, Merkley is relying on an extension, and said he is calling on Congress to reauthorize the unemployment insurance program.

“Congress should act quickly to help working families who are still facing a sluggish job market,” he said.

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