Jobless benefit extension cuts both ways

If you just lost your job, forget about those 99 weeks of unemployment benefits. They just got cut short.

Today, President Obama signed a bill that will extend federal unemployment benefits, as expected. But at the same time, the maximum duration of benefits will be slashed from 99 weeks to 73 by year’s end.

In California, qualified unemployment recipients get a maximum of 26 weeks of paid benefits from the state. But the federal government has been stepping in and extending those benefits for states with high unemployment rates by as much as 73 weeks. The extension gets broken up into five consecutive, confusing tiers with varying qualifications, all based on the state’s average unemployment rate.

The new law will reduce the first four tiers by six weeks to a maximum of 47 weeks from 53 today. It also raises the qualifying unemployment rate in tiers two through four.

In order to even qualify for fifth and final tier of extended benefits, also known as Fed-Ed, a state’s average unemployment rate must be at least 10 percent higher over the last three months than it was during the same period in at least one of the previous three years.

California’s unemployment rate isn’t expected to rise enough between now and June to continue qualifying for Fed-Ed. And as soon as the state doesn’t qualify, neither will its citizens. They can expect to see those final weeks of benefits drop off soon thereafter.

The end result is reduced benefits in all states, while keeping benefits relatively high in the hardest-hit states, says Chad Stone, chief economist with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The center put together a complete and complex explanation of the new law.

California’s Employment Development Department said they are still analyzing the complex new law, and waiting for direction from the U.S. Department of Labor, so they’re not ready to discuss how it will affect benefit recipients in California.

One thing we can tell you is that it’s not going to be pretty.