Looking for work

The recent end of federal extended unemployment benefits has affected thousands across New York state and hundreds locally.

The New York state Department of Labor estimates 102,700 New Yorkers were cut off from federal extended unemployment insurance Dec. 27 when the program ran out.

So far congress and President Barack Obama have been unable to renew the program, which was first initiated under President George W. Bush to cushion the blow from the deep recession following the financial crisis in 2008. At the depth of the recession, laid off workers could qualify for up to 99 weeks of benefits, including the initial 26 weeks provided by states. The most recent extension allowed a total of up to 73 weeks.

According to the state Department of Labor these are the number of local residents cut off from extended benefits:

Fulton County 300

Montgomery County 300

Schoharie County 200

Hamilton County 100

Across the nation an estimated 1.3 million people have been cut off. Another 1.9 million people across the country are expected to exhaust their 26 weeks of state benefits before the end of June.

U.S. Rep Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, said he and his minority Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives are pushing for a vote on a bill to renew the extended benefits, but so far have met strong opposition from the majority Republican leadership in the House. Tonko said the loss of the extended unemployment will hurt everyone in the economy because unemployed people spend all, or nearly all, of the $1,166 average monthly benefit they receive.

“People don’t sit on this check or bank it, it’s their means to survive, so it’s recirculated through the local economy to the tune of $400 million nation wide,” Tonko said.

Tonk cited a recent report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that showed extending the program would boost GDP?growth by some 0.2 percent and increase full-time employment by 200,000.

“As different service sectors out there don’t have the business they could have from the unemployed, more people are put at risk for losing their jobs. It’s a vicious cycle,” he said. “We stand to gain by helping these people who are unemployed or underemployed through no fault of their own. I think it’s the morally correct thing to do and the economically sound thing to do.”?

Restoring up to 47 extra weeks of benefits through 2014 would cost $19 billion, according to the Congressional Budget office. The cost of the extended benefits since 2008 has totaled $225 billion. The Obama administration says those payments have kept 11.4 million people out of poverty and benefited almost 17 million children.

Job search help still available

Gail Breen, the executive director of Workforce Solutions of Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie Counties, said even though the extended benefits are gone, the people who were receiving them can continue to use the services of her office to look for work.

“We are really concerned with anyone who is unemployed and helping them get re-employed. We can help give them the tools to do that,” she said. “We have workshops that are of no cost to anyone, even people who have jobs and are looking for better ones. We aren’t like the old unemployment insurance office; we’re really here to serve everyone,” she said.

Breen said FMS Workforce Solutions offers workshops on how to improve job search skills, interviewing skills, computer skills and resume writing skills. Some upcoming workshops include a resume writing workshop at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, a job search workshop at 1 p.m. on Wednesday and an Internet fundamentals workshop on Thursday at 10 a.m.

The programs are held at the Amsterdam Workforce Solutions Center at 2620 Riverfront Center. Pre-registration is required by calling 842-3676. More information is available, including a complete calender of workshops, at www.fmsworkforcesolutions.org.

Breen said many companies often won’t hire workers who appear to have been unemployed for a long period of time. She said her office teaches people how to fix that.

“There are ways to work your resume to get you into an interview and once you’re in the interview you can overcome having been out of work for a long time,” she said. “We offer a lot of online computer courses that are free to people [who] at the end of the course they can earn a certificate to show to employers that shows that they passed a test to upgrade their skills. Those are the kinds of things that people can do to help them.”

Program still in limbo

Progress on renewing the extended benefits stalled in the U.S. Senate last week when Democrats offered to offset the cost of renewing the program for another 10 months with cuts from other parts of the federal budget, but then refused to permit Republicans to seek any other changes to the bill.

The senate Democrats plan would cost about $18 billion and would be offset in part by extending a previously-approved reduction in Medicare payments to providers and in part by limiting or eliminating the ability of individuals on Social Security disability from also receiving unemployment benefits, Democratic officials told the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to speak on the record.

Senate Republicans have proposed offsetting the cost of extending the program by delaying the requirement for individuals to purchase health care under “Obamacare,” and by preventing immigrants living in the United States from claiming a certain type of tax credit for their children.

Tonko said House Republicans also are arguing for ways to offset the cost of extended unemployment benefits, something he finds hypocritical in light of their past support for tax cuts for high income Americans.

“It’s kind of ironic that now they’re going to hold this up when there was no questioning or concern about paying for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Now they are looking to deny benefits from people who are required to document that they are actively searching for work and can’t find it,” he said.

Tonko will be speaking at an event at 1:30 p.m. in Albany today, along with people who have suffered from the benefit loss, at the Hudson River Coffee House at 227 Quail St.

Weak jobs report

A weaker than expected jobs report Friday may play into the fight over the extended unemployment insurance program.

U.S. employers added just 74,000 jobs in December, far fewer than anyone expected.

The unemployment rate dropped from 7 percent to 6.7 percent -its lowest point in more than five years – but the low rate has more to do with a wave of Americans no longer looking for work than a true uptick in employment.

The report showed 347,000 stopped looking for jobs. The proportion of people either working or looking for work, known as the labor participation rate, fell to 62.8 percent, matching a nearly 36-year low.

New York state’s labor participation rate is worse at 61.4 percent. For comparison, these are the local labor participation rates:

Fulton County 59.8 percent

Montgomery County 59.3 percent

Schoharie County 57.9 percent

Hamilton County 72.1 percent

New York state Department of Labor spokesman Chris White said Hamilton County’s labor participation rate probably comes in a little higher due to its small population.

U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said he supports renewing the extended benefits. He said more people desperate for work could result in downward pressure on wages throughout the economy.

“Obviously, as you create more supply in the job marketplace, and the demand stays the same, pay for everyone could go down,”?he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.