May Unemployment Up; Extended Benefits End

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – State officials said Friday that the unemployment rate ticked up to 7.2 percent in May, and announced that extended benefits would be ending for many people who are out of work.

More than 1,000 people had been receiving special extended unemployment benefits, some for as long as 99 weeks. But that program dried up after the state fell below a trigger level that established the program.

That means only the basic 28-week program will be available starting next week. There are about 15,370 workers receiving unemployment checks from the Department of Labor.

The state uses a different trigger than the unemployment rate to determine if it is eligible for the extended benefits. The trigger is met if the number of unemployed workers falls below 5 percent of the number of workers covered by unemployment insurance. So the program will expire suddenly Saturday despite an increase in the overall unemployment rate.

The Department of Labor said the May unemployment rate increased from 7.1 percent in April as the state and national recoveries stalled. Job growth in Montana was almost flat for the month.

Labor Commissioner Keith Kelly said that up to 2,900 people could soon be affected by the expiration of extended benefits.

“It is going to be shut down just about the time many were ready to qualify for it,” Kelly said.

It is the second time the state has fallen out of qualification for the extended benefits. The program came to a halt last July but began again early this year, said Roy Mulvaney, a division administrator at the state Labor Department.

Congress has been debating an extension of a different emergency benefits program. The state Labor Department said a renewal of that program could help many left in a lurch by the end of the extended benefit program.

“I think it would jump back over and pick these up again if is extended,” Kelly said.