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Have Unemployment Benefits Been Extended for 2011?

written by: Audrey F. Henderson•edited by: Doreen Martel•updated: 3/30/2011

As the holiday season approached at the end of 2010, job seekers anxiously wondered "will they extend unemployment benefits in 2011?" To the relief of many, Congress approved extended benefits. However, this extension would not apply to so-called "99ers" who had already exhausted their benefits.

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    America Is On a Path to Economic Recovery -- Leader Nancy Pelosi 

    After months of Congressional debate, President Barack Obama signed the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Re-authorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 in December 2010, extending various programs ranging from energy efficient tax benefits to unemployment insurance payments. Passage of the bill was a relief to anxious job seekers who had been nervously asking themselves "will they extend unemployment benefits in 2011, or would lawmakers allow benefits to lapse right before the holiday season?" The extension insured that workers who were entitled to receive unemployment benefits would continue to receive checks for the duration of their eligibility. However, the extension did not apply to so-called "99ers," long-term unemployed workers who had exhausted their benefits.

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    Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) Program

    Prior to the most recent economic downturn, state-provided unemployment benefits generally were limited to a maximum of 26 weeks. However, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program, approved by Congress in 2010, extends the maximum eligibility period for unemployment benefits to 99 weeks, adding 73 weeks to the 26 weeks of benefits states typically offer to eligible workers. Benefits vary; workers in states hardest-hit by job cuts during the recent economic recession receive more benefits. The extension passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama extends the EUC program through the end of 2011.

    The additional 7Unemployment Office -- Burt Lum 3 weeks of benefits are divided into four graduated "tiers," with eligible workers moving from one tier to the next, depending on how long they remain unemployed. All states offer Tier 1 benefits, which extend payments for 20 weeks beyond the initial 26 weeks of state-provided unemployment benefits, and Tier 2 payments, which extend payments for an additional 14 weeks after workers exhaust their Tier 1 eligibility. Total maximum eligibility for compensation for unemployed workers in these states is 60 weeks.

    Workers in 47 states plus the District of Columbia who exhaust their Tier 2 eligibility are eligible for Tier 3, which provides an additional 13 weeks of payment. An additional 6 weeks of benefits are avaialble in Tier 4 for workers in 24 states plus the District of Columbia who exhaust their Tier 3 eligibility, for a maximum total of 99 weeks of eligibility for EUC payments, according to The Wall Street Journal.

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    The "99ers"

    EUC payments end after 99 weeks of eligibility, leaving long-term unemployed workers with no federal or state funded financial support. In July 2010, the so-called "99ers" numbered approximately 1.4 million, comprising more than 9 percent of all umemployed workers, according to Holly Yeager of the Columbia Journalism Review, quoting figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and The Washington Post. The extension of benefits approved by Congress in December 2010 does not provide additional benefits to the "99ers." Attempts to add "Tier 5" benefits for "99ers" has met stiff opposition from Republicans in Congress who argue that extended unemployment benefits discourage workers from actively seeking new jobs. The general consensus is that additional benefits for "99ers" are not forthcoming in the foreseeable future.

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    2. Phil Izzo. FAQ: Unemployment Extension, in the Wall Street Journal, retrieved at
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    5. Smart Unemployment: Unemployment Extensions – How Many Weeks of Benefits?, at
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