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Federal unemployment benefits set to expire

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Nearly 7,000 West Virginians receiving federal unemployment benefits are set to lose that aide when funding expires at the end of the week.

They're part of the nearly 1.3 million Americans unemployed for 26 weeks or more who receive funds from an account that's nearly dry.

The recent bipartisan federal budget deal did not address an extension of federal unemployment benefits. Funding for the program is set to run out Dec. 28.

WorkForce West Virginia reported 6,933 people received Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation in November.

That cost $3.3 million, but David Watson, assistant director of benefits for WorkForce west Virginia, said that number fluctuates from month to month.

Most of those people-1,322-live in Charleston, with Huntington and Beckley each reporting more than 500 local recipients.

Almost 25,000 West Virginians are projected to feel the affects of lost benefits by the end of 2014 if there is no extension, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The report states the average weekly claim for a West Virginian in 2013 was $273. About 1,200 jobs in the state would be saved if unemployment benefits were extended through the end of 2014, according to the report.

"The resulting decline in benefit payments will force millions of households to reduce consumption in the short term, causing significant adverse effects on aggregate demand and thus on employment," the report states.

The report acknowledges the numbers are estimates and could change.

Watson said people filing for unemployment would still receive a little money in the beginning of January to account for the last week of December.

State unemployment benefits are available to those out of work for 25 weeks or less, said Beth Nogay Carenbauer, acting director of unemployment compensation at WorkForce.

No one can receive the benefits unless they're looking for work, she said. 

"I think it is particularly important for individuals to start their job search early in their unemployment," Carenbauer said.

"The sooner you begin to look for the job, the better the prospects."

Carenbaurer said it's important for jobseekers to look for jobs that match their training.

"Data indicates that any amount of education or training, particularly in demand occupations, can help with your employability," she said.

Demand occupations locally are most prevalent in the healthcare and technology fields, she said. Many are "middle skill" jobs: they require some education beyond high school but not a college degree, she said.

"I think that's very great news for West Virginians who are looking to enter the job market," she said.

WorkForce offers an array of information on its website, www.workforcewv.org. There are details about training, open positions and other options for those facing benefit cuts.

She said it would be inappropriate to comment as to whether the federal benefits should be extended.

"We leave that up to our congressional delegation," she said.

National lawmakers from both parties have talked about passing some extension of benefits when Congress returns to work in January.

Friday, President Barack Obama said he fully supported a three-month extension proposed last week in the Senate, and pledged to sign it the moment it's passed.

Democrats in the House proposed a measure earlier in the year to extend the benefits for a year, at an estimated cost of $25 billion, according to the Associated Press. Opponents of the measure are leery of the cost.

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., joined every other House Democrat in signing a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, before the budget bill passed asking him to bring an extension up for a vote.

Before voting for the budget deal, Rahall called the absence of any unemployment benefits extension "a glaring defect." 

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., called the absence a "short-sighted and costly mistake" in a statement. A spokesman said the senator would support the three-month extension that has been introduced.

A spokesman for Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said the senator supports extending benefits but would need to see a particular plan before he could say whether he's on board with it. He didn't think Manchin had the chance to review the measure already proposed in the Senate.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., did not provide a comment. A spokesman for Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., did not return requests for comment.

McKinley was the only member of the state delegation to vote against the budget deal, citing problems with the potential local impact on federal programs in his district.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymailwv.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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