About 7,000 Oklahomans could lose extended federal unemployment benefits if Congress doesn't renew the program by the end of the year, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission said Tuesday.
Renewal of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program is among several choices facing Congress in negotiations on the “fiscal cliff,” the catchall term for a package of tax increases and spending cuts that take effect at the end of the year.
“This all depends on Congress,” said John Carpenter, commission spokesman. “It's based on legislation that's getting ready to expire. Nobody can do anything until they act.”
Extension of the emergency unemployment benefits program could cost $22 billion in fiscal year 2013 and $31 billion in 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The federal program extends the regular, 26-week maximum state unemployment benefits in Oklahoma. It has several tiers of extensions based on a state's unemployment rate. The first tier, which is still in effect, extends benefits for 14 weeks. The second and third tier was available to Oklahomans until June.
Oklahoma's jobless rate never reached the point where the top tier provided benefits for up to 99 weeks under the program.
Almost 320,000 Oklahomans have filed claims under the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program since it began in 2008, Carpenter said. The annual figure peaked at 115,000 claimants in 2010, he said. Oklahomans who qualified at that time could receive unemployment benefits for up to 73 weeks.