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  • With unemployment rates at record-high levels many workers are facing the prospect of running out of unemployment benefits. Currently the state of Pennsylvania offers a maximum of 99 weeks of unemployment benefits: 26 weeks from the regular state unemployment insurance agency, 53 weeks from the emergency unemployment compensation program and 20 weeks from the extended benefits program.

    However, as our reader D. Wood asked recently: “Are there any unemployment benefits after 99 weeks?”

    At this moment there are no additional unemployment benefits nor are there any plans for them. What is more, the current extension program which allows for the extended benefits and emergency unemployment compensation benefits will expire at the end of this year. So, it is likely unemployment benefits will be reduced next year to pre-2008 levels.

    However, this does not mean there are no additional options to workers who run out of unemployment benefit weeks and still need financial assistance. For instance, Pennsylvania unemployed workers may apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, and for General Assistance, GA. Would you like to find more information on these two programs. Click here to visit Pennsylvania’s website on human services or read below for a summary of the most frequently asked questions about these programs.

    What Health and Human Services should I apply for?

    You should apply for every benefit that you think you may need.

    When your application arrives the County Assistance Office will look at your income and tell you what Health and Human Services you can receive.

    If I want Cash Assistance, for whom should I apply?

    You must apply for

    If you are a parent under the age of 18, you must include your parents.

    You may apply for children related to you who are not your own. If you apply for any such child you must apply for that child’s siblings. You may also apply for yourself, but it is not required.

    You may apply for children not related to you under emergency circumstances. At your interview, the caseworker will discuss plans for the children with you. You may also apply for yourself, but it is not required.

    You may apply for General Assistance (GA) for yourself, but you must provide information about your spouse if you are married.

    You do not need to apply for anyone who is not your dependent or who is not helping to support you or your children. These individuals should apply separately.

    If eligible for Cash Assistance benefits, what other benefits will I receive?

    If you receive Cash Assistance you also receive Medical Assistance.

    You will also be eligible for programs related to The Road to Economic Self-Sufficiency through Employment and Training (RESET)

    You will be asked if you want to apply for Food Stamps. If you receive Cash Assistance, you may also be able to receive Food Stamps.

    Are there any time limits on Cash Assistance?

    A person can receive TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) for a total of 60 months in a lifetime. This is true if a person is:

    1. An adult;
    2. A minor child who is the head of household or married to the head of household;
    3. A minor child of an adult who has reached the 5-year limit.

    Period(s) of TANF receipt need not be consecutive to count toward the 60-month limit.

    You may receive Cash Assistance that does not count against your 60-month limit. At your interview, talk to your caseworker.

    Single adults, married adults, or children not related to their caretaker, may be able to receive General Assistance (GA). GA has some time limits. These are:

    1. Victims of domestic violence (DV) can have a lifetime total of 9 months of GA;
    2. A person who is drug and/or alcohol dependent can receive GA for only 9 months in his lifetime;
    3. An adult with a temporary disability can get GA while he recovers. A doctor or Psychologist will estimate the recovery time;
    4. An adult with a permanent disability, certified by a doctor or Psychologist, has no time limit;
    5. An adult, who cares for a disabled individual, has no time limit. A doctor or Psychologist must certify the disability;
    6. A child age 18 or under, who is not related to his caretaker, has no time limit.

    How much money will I get?

    Match the county where you live with the number of people you are applying for to see how much money you could receive. Household income may reduce the amount of money you could receive. Money amounts also vary depending on the county you apply from. Counties are divided into four groups. Click here to see where your county lies and how much you can receive.

    In December 2010, the U.S. Congress authorized the extension of federal benefits. However, many states, including Pennsylvania, were warned they would have to tweak their legislation to qualify for these benefits. The previous legislation linked eligibility of workers for extended benefits to the unemployment rate in the last two years. For Pennsylvania to qualify for extended benefits under the current program the Pennsylvania congress needed to modify the criteria to include the last three years in the benchmark deciding which workers received extended benefits and which did not qualify.

    The Extended Benefits Program

    The Extended Benefits program is designed to help states with especially high unemployment rates and assist workers who do not find a job after their unemployment benefits have ended. However, the eligibility for this program depends on the unemployment rate worsening. If the unemployment rate remains the same or improves, however slightly, eligibility is jeopardized. That is why the Pennsylvania Congress needed to change the rules to an alternative eligibility criteria that looks at the last three years instead of the last two. Under this criteria Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate record, still allows Pennsylvania to qualify for benefits.

    However, this change in the state unemployment law did not come without a fight. The republican party were remiss to allowing a modification that would increase the amount of money used by unemployed workers in benefits. Negotiations have been going on for weeks to find a middle ground. The compromise involved reducing the benefits provided to certain high-earning workers by reducing the maximum weekly benefit amount offered to workers. Now the maximum benefit rate in 2012 will  be $573 which will bring millions of dollars in savings. There were worse suggestions by the Republican party. One of these suggestions was that the formula used to calculate state unemployment benefits were slightly modified to reduce the expenditure in wages by $463 million.

    This twelfth hour decision help over 45,000 unemployed workers lose their benefits. Pennsylvania is only one of the 26 states that have modified their legislation to allow for the extended benefits program to apply.Yet most of the other states accepted the decision without controversy. However, some states such as South Carolina and Pennsylvania only agreed to modify the rules in the twelfth hour and with onerous grants to expenditure cutting programs.

    On June 11, residents in 2009 the state of Pennsylvania lost  the right to receive the extended benefits program, which provides 10 to 20 weeks of benefits. Republicans used the imminent cancellation of payments for workers on extended benefits to score points in their own effort to reduce the cost of unemployment benefits for the states.

    Finding work in our current economy is far from a certain thing, especially in Pennsylvania with its 7.5 percent unemployment rate and jobs migrating to regions and countries with lower salaries and more accommodating tax codes. For this reason unemployed workers need as much unemployment benefits as possible to help them find work. Currently the maximum amount of benefits a worker can get on state unemployment benefits is 26 weeks. After 26 weeks all state unemployment benefits expire.

    Federal Unemployment Benefits

    However, up until January, 31, 2012, the federal unemployment benefits first launched by President Bush in 2008 and extended in February 2010 by President Obama until the week of 25th to 31st, December 2011, continue to provide financial assistance to Pennsylvania workers. Federal assistance includes the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program and the Extended Benefits program. Together these two programs provide a maximum of 73 weeks, 53 weeks in the Emergency Unemployment Compensation and  20 weeks with the Extended Benefits program. The Emergency Unemployment Program in Pennsylvania is divided into four tiers. The first tier has 20 weeks, the second 14 weeks, the third 13 weeks and the fourth 6 weeks. The deadline for applying for any of the tiers is the same, the 31st of December 2011.

    This brings the total amount of unemployment benefits to 99 weeks, if you include state unemployment insurance and both federal programs. Is this all an unemployed worker can hope to receive in unemployment benefits? In most cases the answer is yes. However, if you worked for an employer who was forced to lay you off because of competition from a foreign product or service, you may be able to apply for trade readjustment allowances from the Trade Adjustment Assistance program. This program provides financial assistance, free training and even relocation to an are with a lower unemployment rate for workers who have been affected by foreign imports.

    Payments under the Trade Adjustment Assistance program are funded by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, but are managed by each state individually. If you think you may qualify for this program, you can apply to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and request assistance. The Trade Adjustment Assistance program can offer help to workers even after their unemployment benefits have expired.

    So, which should you choose: federal emergency unemployment compensation and extended benefits payments or the trade readjustment allowances? It depends. In some cases trade readjustment allowances provide longer and more generous payments and benefits, while in other cases the fixed payments and well-understood methods used to calculate and manage emergency unemployment compensation program provide a better deal for workers. Contact your local unemployment office and request information on the best option for you.

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