Unemployed brace for long-term benefits loss

MARQUETTE – More than 1 million Americans -including about 1,400 in the Upper Peninsula- are suffering a harrowing, post-Christmas jolt as extended federal unemployment benefits came to a sudden halt Saturday, with potentially significant implications for the recovering U.S. economy.

Congress reached no deal to reinstate the benefits before the holiday break. A tense political battle likely looms when Congress reconvenes in the new, midterm election year.

Nudging Congress along, a vacationing President Barack Obama called two senators proposing an extension to offer his support. From Hawaii, Obama pledged Friday to push Congress to move quickly next year to address the “urgent economic priority,” the White House said.

For families dependent on cash assistance, the end of the federal government’s “emergency unemployment compensation” will mean some difficult belt-tightening as enrollees lose their average monthly stipend of $1,166.

According to a report issued earlier this month by U.S. Senators Carl Levin, D-Detroit, Debbie Stabenow, D-Ann Arbor and U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, the U.P. residents affected will represent about 3 percent of the 43,311 total Michigan residents who lost unemployment insurance coverage Saturday. Another 85,500 Michigan residents are expected to lose their coverage during the first six months of next year.

“Michigan and the nation are still recovering from the worst recession in decades and now is not the time to end support that is so critical to tens of thousands of Michigan families,” said Sen. Levin in a recent news release. “It is vital to extend this important economic lifeline as soon as possible.”

Of the U.P.’s 15 counties, Marquette County had the highest number of residents impacted with 287. Keweenaw County had the fewest with nine. Alger County had 33; Baraga County, 38; Delta County, 154 and Houghton County, 161.

Across the country, an estimated 1.3 million people were cut off when the federally funded unemployment payments ended Saturday.

Jobless rates could drop, but analysts say the economy may now suffer with less money for consumers to spend on everything from clothes to cars. Obama has no quick fix. He hailed this month’s two-year budget agreement as a breakthrough of bipartisan cooperation while his administration

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is jpepin@miningjournal.net