Payments ended nationwide on Dec. 28 and Congress chose not to reauthorize them in 2014

For the past few years, each time the deadline for federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) arrived, Congress voted to extend the program.

This time, the Dec. 28 deadline came and went, but Congress did not continue the program.

As a result, about 20,000 Oregonians lost their unemployment benefits this past week, about 150 of which live in Crook County.

The EUC program provided up to four tiers of benefits above and beyond those provided by individual states. In Oregon, unemployed individuals are provided 26 weeks of benefits. The EUC payments provided up to 73 additional weeks, for a potential total of 99.

Although the program ended abruptly, recipients of the benefits were not necessarily caught off guard by the change.

"This has not come as a surprise to anyone," said Craig Spivey, public information representative for the Oregon Employment Department. "Every step of the way, there has been communication. We are talking about people who have been on unemployment for well over a year, and it has been a process."

For those receiving EUC benefits, employment department personnel have reached out to provide resources that will facilitate new employment.

"In our WorkSource Oregon centers, we have services for them," Spivey said. "We have connections with other community services."

Locally, losing the benefits is not catastrophic, but still a bitter pill to swallow.

"It is kind of like, find a job or have no income or fall into some other safety net program," said Damon Runberg, Central Oregon's regional economist for the Employment Department. "It would really be almost cruel to say that the outlook is great for them, because obviously that is a pretty serious situation to be in if you have to feed your family or pay your mortgage or rent."

At the same time, Runberg feels that now is a better time to lose EUC benefits than it was even a couple months ago.

"We are seeing across the board that industries are showing improvement over the year," he said. "We are seeing an ever-increasing number of jobs available."

Throughout the past years, the transportation, warehousing, and trade industry has seen the most growth, with 90 jobs added, but the construction and wood products industry, where many local jobs were lost, are also rebounding.

Runberg did note that construction jobs are nowhere near as plentiful as they were prior to the recession, so people are seeking new skills to better market themselves.

So far, Spivey has not heard any talk about another EUC extension, although he does not consider it outside the realm of possibility.

"It hasn't reached a real high level of discussion yet."

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) does not want to extend the program, because he feels that doing so could worsen the national economy.

"The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says that an extension proposal in the House could actually increase the length of unemployment for some Americans and would increase the budget deficit by $25 billion," he said.

Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, on the other hand, have made it clear that they would support a new extension.

"We need to continue to extend those unemployment benefits until we get to the jobs and the economy that people in Oregon deserve," said Wyden's spokesman Tom Towslee.

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