Federal Unemployment Program to End Saturday

By Beacon Staff

GREAT FALLS — Some 539 Montanans will lose their federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits starting Saturday after Congress failed to renew the program, Montana Labor Commissioner Pam Bucy said.

The unemployment program created in 2008 during the Great Recession provided long-term jobless workers with up to 92 weeks of combined Montana and federal benefits.

The impact will be felt less in Montana than other states because Montana has a comparatively low unemployment rate at 5.2 percent, Bucy said in a story published by The Great Falls Tribune Tuesday.

“It’s unfortunate for those 539 individuals and their families and will have a real impact on their daily lives,” she said.

Jeanie Trapp of the Great Falls-based nonprofit Opportunities Inc. said it’s bad timing to have the federal program end near Christmas and during winter. She predicted Opportunities Inc. will get more requests for help with heating costs, food and job searches.

“Every agency in town is trying to help children have a good Christmas, but if parents have unemployment insurance eliminated, it’s bound to impact their families,” she said. “How will they cover the costs of food and utilities when their benefits are exhausted?”

Congress allowed the program to lapse when funding was dropped in the budget compromise by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray that averted future government shutdowns and relieved some other across-the-board cuts.

Montana Unemployment Insurance Division chief Rob Mulvaney said another 1,876 Montanans receive state unemployment insurance now and could later qualify for EUC benefits if Congress renews the program next year.

Unemployed workers first must exhaust their state benefits, normally eight to 28 weeks depending on circumstances, before seeking federal EUC benefits.

The benefits are usually less than half what the person made while working, Mulvaney said.

The unemployment division’s website suggests those losing their benefits consider other safety-net programs, such as Supplemental Nutritional Assistance, or SNAP, formerly called food stamps; and Montana TANF, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, formerly called welfare.