The Emergency Unemployment Compensation program ended this past December for 160 local residents

Just before New Year’s Eve, the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program finally expired.

After multiple extensions had saved the recession-spawned increase in benefits, Congress opted not to reauthorize the program prior to the passing of its Dec. 28 sunset.

Oregon Employment Department personnel said more than 20,000 Oregonians, including about 150 Crook County residents, suddenly lost weekly unemployment payments as a result.

Now, 10 U.S. senators from both sides of the aisle have joined forces to resurrect the federal program as they feel the Americans still need the help.

“Since Dec. 28, Congress has left Oregonians looking for work out in the cold,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who has joined the effort. “Democrats and Republicans have come together to right this wrong. These benefits will help keep food on the table and a roof over the heads of struggling Oregonians and their families while they find work.”

The EUC program is designed to provide additional weeks of benefits beyond the 26 typically granted to unemployed individuals. The program has been offered in three tiers, making it possible for people to obtain up to 73 more weeks of benefits.

The unemployment rate for Oregon dropped below 7 percent as of this past February while the Crook County rate came in at 10.7 percent. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), like Merkley, feels that the economy has not yet rebounded enough to drop the federal assistance.

“He has always supported extending unemployment benefits and this time is no different,” said Wyden’s spokesman Tom Towslee. “This economy wreaked havoc with a lot of people, and while things are getting better, there are still people who are feeling the effects of the recession. Until these people can get back into the workforce, it is important that we provide them with unemployment benefits that really are a lifeline for most of them.”

Craig Spivey, spokesman for the Oregon Employment Department, could not identify any reaction resulting from the sudden loss in EUC benefits. Nevertheless, he found data that suggests that unemployed individuals are having better luck finding work.

“Currently, there are 47,392 individuals on unemployment benefits statewide,” he said. “This compares to 87,412 statewide one year ago. This could be due, in part, to the ending of Emergency Unemployment Compensation, but to a large part, it is also due to an improving economy. Last year, Oregon added 43,000 jobs – sixth fastest growth in the nation.”

Spivey went on to say that, since December, 11,582 people have exhausted their regular unemployment benefits, more than half the total of those who lost their EUC payments.

The attempt to reach an extension was scheduled to go to a vote in the Senate on Monday. If passed, its fate would rest in the House, where Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) has already spoken against such extensions.

As the deadline approached in December, Walden said that an extension could actually worsen the economy.

“The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says 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.

Walden could not be reached for comment on the current Senate deal by press deadline.

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