The Associated Press April 9, 2012, 09:05AM ET

Idaho's long-term unemployed to lose benefits

The state Department of Labor says long-term unemployment benefits in Idaho will expire after Dec. 31, though some jobless workers will be cut off sooner depending on when they started receiving the federal assistance.

Agency spokesman Bob Fick says the jobless benefits are being scaled back because Idaho's jobless rate is improving and a new federal law is phasing out emergency assistance for long-term unemployed workers.

Regular unemployment benefits last up to 26 weeks and are paid by the state. But two long-term benefit programs are funded by the federal government, and are triggered on and off by Idaho's unemployment rate.

Fick says the first program, known as emergency unemployment compensation, will shrink from 53 week of benefits to 13 weeks. The second program, known as extended benefits, currently pays up to 20 weeks of benefits but will be completely eliminated that month.

In total, the maximum weeks of unemployment benefits will drop from 99 weeks to 39 weeks in Idaho, Fick said.

No long-term unemployed workers will get extended benefits after the end of the year under changes approved by Congress in February, he said.

"It's a hard cut off, there is no phase out," Fick said during an interview with The Associated Press on Friday. "Nobody gets squat after Dec. 31."

Idaho's unemployment rate dropped to 8 percent for February, the seventh straight monthly decline and the lowest rate since September 2009.

The labor department estimates 300 jobless Idaho workers are transitioning each week from regular unemployment benefits, funded by the state, to the federally finances extended benefits. As workers make the transition, they're going to get fewer benefits, Fick said.

"Because everyone gets cut off at the end of the year," he said.

Meanwhile, the labor department is working to crack down on workers who continue to claim unemployment benefits after returning to Idaho's job force because they have not been reported as a new hire by their employer.

Most Idaho businesses -- about 70 percent -- don't comply with a state law requiring them to report new hires within 20 days. The labor department says it needs that information to prevent people from bilking the system by continuing to collect benefits.

The law, passed in 1997, does not currently include a penalty for those who don't comply.

The agency sought legislation in the 2012 Idaho Legislature that would have slapped non-compliant employers with a $25 fine. The bill won unanimous approval from state senators but got sidetracked in the Idaho House, where lawmakers feared it could hurt businesses.

The labor department estimated the measure would save Idaho $5 million annually from unemployment fraud.

"What you see here is what happens when a law has no penalty," Fick said. "Seventy percent of the people required to abide by it have decided not to."

The agency launched a public awareness campaign last month to remind Idaho employers of the reporting requirement. The department said additional efforts, using social media and the agency's website, are planned.


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