Falling jobless rate may soon end some Ohio unemployment benefits

Ohio’s recently lowered unemployment rate is something of a double-edged sword, with state government warning that the lower rate will trigger fast-approaching changes in federal and state benefits.

The Ohio unemployment rate fell to 5.6% in October, down from 8.3% the month before, state data showed last week.

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But the gradually improving jobs situation triggers federally mandated changes in both the federal-state Extended Benefits (EB) program and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services is warning.

Individuals who exhaust regular unemployment benefits may be eligible for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). If they exhaust that , they are potentially eligible for EB benefits. If they exhaust all three programs, they could be eligible for PUA.

The state is warning that a new expiration threshold will be reached Dec. 12, when EB benefits will end for those who were eligible to receive up to 20 weeks of that program. And those receiving PUA will not qualify for 7 additional PUA weeks after December 12.

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New claimants, approved to receive up to 13 weeks of EB based on Ohio’s lower unemployment rate, are not impacted now, Ohio government said.

“Unless action is taken at the federal level, only traditional unemployment benefits will remain in effect after December 26,” the state said this week.

A cutoff of benefits of this magnitude will affect tens of thousands of Ohioans, which is a massive lessening of spending power across the state, something that’s bound to affect businesses large and small, said Zach Schiller, research director with the Policy Matters Ohio think tank.

He estimates that more than 236,000 Ohioans will be impacted by the cessation of PUA benefits.

“It really is a federal decision that Congress needs to make,” Schiller said.

October’s jobless rate declined to 5.6%, pushing the state’s three-month average unemployment rate down to 7.6% ending what the U.S. Department of Labor defines as a “High Unemployment Period.”

Ohio isn’t alone in this dilemma. Unemployed workers in most states typically get a half-year of benefits, 26 weeks, plus additional weeks when the economy is in bad shape.

Back in March, when the COVID-19 pandemic was first truly felt domestically, Congress passed an additional 13 weeks of benefits.

Congress also expanded eligibility to include people who ordinarily wouldn’t qualify for benefits, such as freelancers, independent contractors and people who had to leave jobs to care for ill relatives.

Unless Congress acts, an estimated 12 million Americans could lose in December benefits tied to the $2.2 trillion CARES Act.

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