COLUMBUS, Ohio - Going into the holiday season, tens of thousands of Ohioans are unsure of whether emergency jobless benefits meant to help them weather the recession will be around come New Years.
Nearly 77,000 jobless Ohioans draw federal unemployment benefits, and more than a quarter of those rely on the benefits to pay their mortgages, utility bills and grocery bills, The Columbus Dispatch reported ( http://bit.ly/uftUXv ). Unless Congress funds another extension of the benefits, those Ohioans will lose them in early January.
The Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services expects another 107,000 workers to become unemployed by early April.
The jobless benefits were passed by Congress in 2008 as a lifeline to workers who faced unemployment during the worst recession since the Great Depression. Since then, lawmakers have approved nine extensions. They have until Dec. 31 to approve another before the funds are exhausted.
Ohio employers will also have to pay more in taxes next year to help the state pay penalties it owes the federal government for failing to repay $2.5 billion it borrowed to keep its unemployment trust fund afloat for the last two years. That boils down to an average of $21 per employee in 2012.
The state's fund ran out in January 2009 when taxes paid by employers were no longer enough to cover the cost of benefits issued to jobless workers, causing the state to have to borrow from the federal government.
"Employers will be surprised. Nobody follows this," said Andrew Doehrel, president of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. "When you say $21, it doesn't seem like a big deal, but start multiplying that number by 100 or 200 employees and it will have an impact. Anytime you add costs, it hurts job creation."
Lawmakers could decide this week whether to extend benefits.
"Congress should not go home for the holidays while leaving 70,000 Ohioans and their families in a lurch," said Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. "Ohioans who have lost their job through no fault of their own should be able to count on the unemployment insurance they paid into while they were working."
But Congress may also decide to restrict who can receive them or consider other ideas to control costs. Republican Sen. Rob Portman told the newspaper he assumes benefits will be extended before the end of the year, but he's worried about how to pay for them.
"We want to be sure that while we are extending unemployment insurance, that we are not making things worse by adding more and more to the deficit and accumulating debt, which makes the economy worse," he said.