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Extended benefits to end for N.C. unemployed

Staff report
An uptick in employment figures may bring bad news to unemployed workers who are participating in the Extended Benefits Program.
The state announced Monday it would not pay state Extended Benefits claims past April 16. The program had provided up to 20 weeks of benefits for long-term unemployed people who had exhausted benefits in other programs.
Larry Parker, a spokesman for the state Employment Security Commission, said about 37,000 people statewide will be affected by the program being terminated, including around 900 in Rowan County.
Parker said certain “triggers” turn the Extended Benefits Program on and off.
North Carolina began paying the benefits after the state unemployment rate averaged more than 6.5 percent for the three months ending October 2008. The program ended because the average state jobless rate for December through February fell below 110 percent of the average for the same period the previous two years.
“So that triggers off the Extended Benefits program, meaning that all payments are gone as of the 16th,” Parker said.
The benefits that jobless North Carolina residents will lose access to came after other programs had been exhausted and had meant that long-term unemployed people could get up to 99 weeks of benefits. Now that maximum will be 79 weeks.
In all of the programs, the length of eligibility is determined by the amount a person worked before losing a job. The benefits paid are determined by how much that person earned, Parker said.
Here’s how unemployment benefits progress:
A person who loses a job is eligible for up to 26 weeks of regular unemployment benefits.
When that eligibility is exhausted, a federal program called Emergency Unemployment Compensation kicks in for anyone who is eligible. The unemployed progress through four tiers with a total of 53 weeks of benefits possible.
Until now, after a jobless person went through the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, the state’s Extended Benefits Program took effect.
With the end of that program, those people will have no others to turn to, Parker said.
The bad news for the long-term unemployed comes as the state sees some good jobs news.
The state’s unemployment rate dropped to 9.7 percent in February as 17,400 jobs were added.
Debbie Davis, manager of the local office of the N.C. Employment Security Commission and JobLink Center, said construction jobs have picked up locally, with Duke Energy expanding Buck Steam Plant and others adding jobs here and there. But some employers are opting to use temporary agencies because they feel uncertain about the economy.
Davis said more than 400 job applicants turned out for a job fair her office held last week, and the 25 employers who participated seemed to be pleased with the results.
In January, Rowan’s jobless rate was 12 percent. Davis said 8,249 people were unemployed and 2,353 received unemployment benefits.
For those who remain unemployed after their initial 26 weeks of benefits, the filing period for Emergency Unemployment Compensation program has been extended to Jan. 3, 2012. But people who have exhausted eligibility under that program will not be able to apply for more benefits, state officials said.

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