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August 20, 2014

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End of unemployment benefits would hurt Nevadans, economy, Democrats say

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Steve Marcus

Job seekers look over a posting of jobs at the Job Connect offices on Maryland Parkway Tuesday, March 27, 2012. A new Brookings Institution/UNLV report confirms that while the national economy improves, the Las Vegas economy continues to struggle with high unemployment & stagnant or declining home prices.

Nearly 18,000 Nevadans would receive their last unemployment checks before New Year's unless Congress passes an extension of funding for the benefits past its expiration on Dec. 28, according to state-by-state figures the House Ways and Means Committee released Thursday.

Another 21,900 people, committee Democrats counted, could lose their benefits in the first half of 2014.

Democrats point to still-difficult economic conditions in states such as Nevada, where unemployment is 9.5 percent, to argue that it is necessary to keep the maximum benefits available at 73 weeks.

“I strongly believe that if every member of Congress would take even a few minutes to speak personally with unemployed workers, there wouldn’t be any question at all about the need to extend the federal (unemployment insurance) program,” Ways and Means ranking member Sander Levin said at a hearing Thursday.

Not all Republicans are convinced.

Ways and Means Committee Republicans stressed Thursday that expansion of the emergency unemployment insurance program was intended to be a temporary patch in response to the recession and should be allowed to expire.

That’s a view that at least one Republican in the Nevada delegation, Rep. Mark Amodei, has expressed in the past.

But when push came to shove, he voted with the rest of the state's delegation to extend benefits.

Amodei couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday. But Nevada’s other Republicans in Congress say their support for extending unemployment benefits will depend on the terms of the extension.

“Sen. (Dean) Heller has supported extending unemployment benefits in the past,” his spokeswoman Chandler Smith said, adding that Heller “will closely examine any resulting legislation that affects these programs in light of what is best for Nevada.”

In the House, Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., is expected to sign on to a Republican-drafted letter calling on party leaders in the House to extend benefits before they begin to expire this month.

“He would support some type of extension,” Heck spokesman Greg Lemon said Thursday.

Should Congress fail to extend the program, unemployment benefits would begin to expire for recipients reaching the end of their tier eligibility.

There are four tiers of emergency unemployment insurance available for Nevadans who exhaust the 26 weeks that are guaranteed to all qualifying jobless workers.

Tier 1 brings an additional 14 weeks of unemployment benefits, as does Tier 2, provided the state in which one is filing has an unemployment rate of 6 percent or higher. Jobless workers in states with an unemployment rate higher than 7 percent are eligible for a third tier that brings an extra nine weeks of coverage, while individuals filing in states with a 9 percent unemployment rate or higher can qualify for an extra 10 weeks.

The maximum number of weeks one jobless worker can collect unemployment insurance is 73.

In Nevada, 302,539 people have taken advantage of emergency unemployment benefits since the beginning of 2008, according to Department of Labor statistics. The department also estimates that if additional tiers of benefits are allowed to expire, a total of 60,300 people will be affected over the next year.

“Christmastime is no time for Congress to tell more than 1 million of these Americans that they have lost their unemployment insurance,” President Barack Obama said in an economic policy speech Wednesday, noting that “is what will happen if Congress does not act before they leave on their holiday vacation.”

White House officials, in their state-by-state report Thursday, also argue the expiration of emergency unemployment benefits may come at a cost to the Nevada economy.

Because unemployment dollars are almost always spent on necessary goods and services, the multiplier effect of those dollars is relatively high, and the loss of them could bring the loss of jobs. The White House estimates that in Nevada, cessation of the extra tiers of insurance would cost the state 2,953 jobs, due to the resulting economic crunch.

Time on the congressional calendar is running short, however. With that in mind, Democrats want to press a demand that carries a hard deadline: They plan to force Republicans to tie a decision on unemployment insurance to the ongoing budgeting process.

The House and Senate budget committees have until Dec. 13 to agree on budget guidelines for 2014, under the terms of the shutdown-ending deal Congress approved in October.

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