The Associated Press
DAYTON — Hundreds of thousands of Ohioans receiving unemployment benefits must meet new eligibility requirements while facing the potential loss of their federal unemployment benefits by the end of the year.
More than 50,000 Ohioans since March have exhausted their federal extended unemployment benefits, and about 300,000 Ohio residents are among hundreds of thousands of Americans who will no longer receive those benefits by the end of 2012 unless Congress reinstates them, the Dayton Daily News reported.
Extending federal benefits to last up to a peak of 99 weeks was intended to help displaced workers, especially in states like Ohio that were hit hard by unemployment. But when Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.5 percent in March from 8.8 percent a year earlier, the state no longer qualified for the final 20 weeks of extended benefits, according to the state.
Meanwhile, Ohio has adopted two new eligibility rules for those receiving unemployment checks, in accordance with the federal law that extended those benefits. Those who don’t meet the requirements could have their benefits suspended, at least temporarily, said Ben Johnson, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
One rule requires those receiving federal and state unemployment benefits to prove they have been actively seeking work.
State jobs officials previously conducted random checks to ensure claimants made at least two potential employer contacts each week. But claimants are now required to submit the names of those contacted with their weekly applications for benefits, Johnson said.
“There’s no longer the opportunity for someone to hope that they won’t be pulled for a random audit and not actually search for work,” Johnson told the newspaper.
The second rule requires claimants to attend re-employment counseling at local job centers as they near the end of their federal benefits. State benefits are available for 26 weeks in Ohio, with federal benefits kicking in when those benefits run out.
That requirement is intended to ensure that claimants make contact with someone to talk about their searches and learn about any job or training opportunities, state and federal officials said.
While federal law requires those receiving unemployment benefits to actively search for jobs and have access to in-person assessments at one-stop career centers, individual states are allowed some flexibility in determining specific guidelines, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Labor said.
But without action by Congress, many Ohioans will lose their federal benefits even if they meet all requirements.
That loss could drive some into bankruptcy, said David Jones, president of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies.
“People who can’t find work and those who have just quit trying have adjusted their lifestyles to live on unemployment payments, which has contributed to the reduction in bankruptcy filings over the last two or three quarters,” he told the newspaper.
But some economists think cutting back extended benefits might give unemployed workers more incentive to look for a job.
“Like all government benefits, people get hooked on the candy,” said Ken Mayland, president of Clearview Economics in suburban Cleveland.