1,300 in Clark, Champaign could see cuts

Long-term unemployed in Clark, Champaign counties lose about $50 a week.

More than 1,300 people in Clark and Champaign counties could see a reduction in unemployment benefits after Sunday because of sequestration.

During the Great Recession, the federal government paid for extended unemployment benefits past the standard 26 weeks of benefits provided by the state of Ohio. Because of the $85 billion in across the board cuts to federal programs set in motion by the sequester in March, those extended benefits will be cut by more than 16 percent.

Eligible participants receive an average of $313 a week under the program. With the cuts, that’s a loss of about $50 a week. While some have opposed the extensions, local officials anticipate the cuts will hurt the local economy.

“The reduction is mandated by federal law,” said Ben Johnson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

More than 1,000 people in Clark County and 284 people in Champaign County received state unemployment benefits as of April 20, according to ODJFS records. The state-funded 26 weeks of payments aren’t affected by the sequester and are paid for out of the taxpayer-funded Ohio Unemployment Trust Fund.

But after those run out, residents who qualify for an extension will see the reduction. The cuts will be applied when someone first receives the additional benefits or receives another extension.

After 26 weeks, those who are still unemployed can get extensions several weeks at a time, which the state calls a tier. At one point, the available unemployment benefits in Ohio were extended to 99 weeks and had multiple tiers.

Based on current Ohio’s unemployment rate, the extension now lasts 28 additional weeks. After May 5, that will go up to 37 weeks.

The state doesn’t track how many Ohioans are currently in the federal extended program by county. But 36,000 people statewide receive those additional benefits, and will see a decrease once they reach the next extension, or tier.

Another 18,000 people have exhausted their unemployment but may be eligible for a new third tier of extended benefits at the reduced rate.

For more information on the benefits, call 877-OHIO-JOB or visit unemployment.ohio.gov.

The state worked with the U.S. Department of Labor to soften the blow of the cuts, Johnson said.

“We asked if it can only be when they move to a new tier, so it gives people more time to prepare and makes it easier for us administratively,” he said. “The Department of Labor agreed to that last week.”

Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland said the cuts will give people less buying power, which in turn will affect the general economy. In addition, the people affected may end up unable to pay bills.

“These could become people who we may need to help in other ways that will cause us to spend more money,” said Copeland, a Democrat. “Whenever a group of people in the community lose money, it affects all of us.”

U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-West Chester, and his office didn’t return calls from the Springfield News-Sun seeking comment.

Previously Boehner, who represents Clark County, has been opposed to the extension of unemployment benefits. He has criticized the unemployment extension as proof that President Barack Obama’s stimulus and economic plan failed to create jobs.

Job and Family Services of Clark County is anticipating requests for additional help.

“If anything the impact will be individuals coming in seeking public assistance programs,” said Lehan Peters, deputy director of the local JFS and WorkPlus One-Stop Center.

“Chances are they may come in and apply for medical for children, food assistance and cash assistance,” she said. “These programs are available but most people are declined. Most pay into the system but the benefits are for everyone.”

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