Payments under the Extended Benefits (EB) program ended in eight states on Sunday, cutting more than 200,000 people – all of whom have been looking for work for over a year – from unemployment insurance (UI). This is just the latest round of cuts, and, with this round, more than 400,000 people have now lost benefits as EB payments have ended in 25 high-unemployment states since the beginning of the year (see table).
A state may offer additional weeks of UI benefits through EB if its unemployment rate reaches certain thresholds (13 weeks if at least 6.5 percent; 20 weeks if at least 8 percent), and if this rate is at least 10 percent higher than it was in any of the three prior years. But unemployment rates have remained so elevated for so long that most states no longer meet this latter criterion (referred to as the “three-year lookback”).
In short, benefits have ended not because economic conditions have improved, but because they have not significantly deteriorated in the past three years. For example, the unemployment rate in California, which is now the nation’s third highest, has remained above 10 percent for over three years. Nevertheless, more than 90,000 recipients lost their benefits yesterday.
Policymakers could have addressed the “lookback” when they extended federal UI at the beginning of the year, but they didn’t. Instead, Congress not only allowed EB payments to fade out, but it also made changes that over the course of the year will reduce the number of weeks of benefits available in the temporary Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program, which provides up to 53 additional weeks to the long-term unemployed based on the unemployment rate in their state.
Therefore, despite record levels of long-term unemployment, the map is quickly changing for the unemployed. (In the maps below, see the status as of both the start of the year and this week; click on the first map to see the week-by-week change.) The number of weeks of UI benefits available is shrinking, and beneficiaries will be eligible for even fewer once the first round of EUC reductions takes effect at the end of the month.