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Nearly 10,000 Lose Unemployment Benefits

Congress may revisit the issue when they return from recess.

The Commonwealth saw 9,700 people lose their long-term federal unemployment benefits Saturday. Photo courtesy of Virginia Employment Law Journal
The Commonwealth saw 9,700 people lose their long-term federal unemployment benefits Saturday. Photo courtesy of Virginia Employment Law Journal
While the overall employment picture is good in Northern Virginia, compared to the rest of the country, the Commonwealth saw 9,700 people lose their long-term federal unemployment benefits Saturday, which are the benefits that kick in after Virginia unemployment benefits have expired.

The average weekly unemployment benefits check for Virginia residents is $296.95.

Across the entire country, 1.3 million Americans were expected to immediately lose their long-term federal unemployment insurance coverage Saturday. 

Why? Congress passed a budget compromise before Christmas that did not include extending the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. 

"No one got everything they wanted out of this deal," Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-11th) said in a statement. "Indeed, I along with many of my colleagues would have preferred to see an extension of long-term unemployment benefits, which has a very direct and significant benefit on more than 1 million families and our national and local economies."

"Every dollar of assistance generates $1.64 in economic activity in the community," he continued. "Sadly, it was not addressed here, but we will continue to push the Speaker to bring it up separately to help those still struggling to find work."

The federal program was started in June of 2008, when Congress approved a 13-week extension. In Virginia, it added on to its 26 weeks of unemployment; the length of time varies by state.

As the recession got worse, Congress passed additional expansions. But those expansions are gone as of Saturday. 

The Congressional Budget Office estimates by not renewing the program, the country will see a savings of $25 billion a year.

Now in Virginia, instead of getting 40 weeks of unemployment insurance, Virginians will go back to getting just 26 weeks, unless Congress decides to revisit extending long-term unemployment benefits when they return to Washington this coming Friday.

In Virginia an additional 31,800 people are set to lose their unemployment benefits in the first six months of 2014 when they hit the 26-weeks mark, according to Democrats on the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee.

President Obama is pushing to renew the program. Gene Sperling, the director of Obama's National Economic Council, said this week, "Never before have we abruptly cut off emergency unemployment insurance when we faced this level of long-term unemployment, and it would be a blow to these families and our economy."

Sperling noted that Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) "have put forward bipartisan legislation to extend emergency unemployment insurance for three months, which would prevent these 1.3 million workers and their families from losing benefits while giving more time for consideration of further extension through 2014, and Leader (Harry) Reid will bring it to a vote as soon as they return." 

The unemployment rate for Virginia is currently 5.4 percent. In October in Fairfax County, the rate was 4.1 percent, and in Falls Church, 7.1 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The U.S. unemployment figure is 7 percent—though some say it's even higher, with some people giving up entirely on getting a job.

If you live in Northern Virginia and have questions about unemployment insurance in Virginia, you can stop by the Virginia Employment Commission at 5520 Cherokee Ave., Alexandria, or call 703-813-1300.

For other assistance, see information here on local food pantries and social services by location in Northern Virginia. You can also call Department of Family Services at 703-324-7500.

What do you think of Congress saving the country around $25 billion a year by cutting off federal long-term unemployment assistance? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

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