A political spat in Washington is going to cost thousands of unemployed Arizonans some — if not all — of their benefits.
Federal legislation paying for extended and expanded benefits expires April 5. And a deal to keep them alive fell apart when some Senate Republicans balked about funding the expenses without cutting spending elsewhere.
The problem, according Steve Meissner, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Economic Security, is that Congress went home for recess. And lawmakers aren’t due back until April 12.
Most immediately, the failure of Congress to act means that Arizonans getting regular benefits — the 26 weeks paid for by the state — won’t get the extra $25 a week provided by the federal government. Meissner said about 68,000 people are affected.
Potentially more significant is what happens to the 103,000 Arizonans who are getting extended benefits, people who have exhausted their 26 weeks of state benefits, and have been getting continued payments entirely with federal dollars.
Meissner said their situation is a bit more complicated: Some will — and some will not — get checks while Congress decides what to do.
But Meissner has one message for those whose money stops.
“Whatever happens, keep filing,” he said. If Congress finally comes around, Meissner said it will be easier for the state to resume payments to those whose benefits were halted.
More to the point, he said it ensures that if Congress does act, and if it makes the extension retroactive, DES will be able to send out checks for the missing cash.
The U.S. House already has approved a measure containing funds for an additional month of the extended benefits. But Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., blocked that chamber from considering the House-passed plan.
Which of the 103,000 Arizonans getting extended benefits are affected, and when, is a bit complicated.
Congress has approved five separate federally-funded extensions beyond the 26 weeks paid for by the state.
The first, which goes back to 2008, added an extra 13 weeks. Four subsequent “tiers” brought the total extended benefits up to a total of 73 weeks.
Meissner said those in the middle of one of those tiers will continue to get the extra payments. But they will not be able to go on to the next tier.
So, for example, someone who is this week in the sixth week of the first extension will be able to continue to get those extra payments through the 20 weeks whether Congress acts or not. But, absent federal action, that person would not get anything beyond that.
But anyone getting the 20th week of extra payments next week is not entitled to the next tier of extended benefits and will get no more money unless and until Congress acts.
Meissner said that’s because the various extensions, approved by separate acts of Congress, each requires someone who is unemployed to reapply to reach the next tier. Without authorization, he said, the state can’t put someone into that new tier.
But in a quirk in the federal laws, Meissner said those who are getting extended benefits — beyond the original 26 weeks — will continue to get the extra $25 bump, at least until they reach the end of their tier.
State benefits — 26 weeks
First extension — 20 weeks
Second extension — 14 weeks
Third extension — 13 weeks
Fourth extension — 6 weeks
Fifth extension — 20 weeks
Source: Department of Economic Security