More than 2,000 Yakima County residents will see a significant cut in their federal unemployment benefits starting next week, a spokeswoman for the state Employment Security Department.
Statewide about 40,000 residents will see a 21 percent cut in weekly benefits starting Sunday. The cuts come as a result of the sequester, an across the board round of federal spending cuts that amount to $85 billion because Congress failed to approve a budget earlier this year.
“People were already taking a big hit financially to be on unemployment,” Olympia-based Employment Security spokeswoman Sheryl Hutchison said. “It’s going to make it a lot more difficult.”
The cuts only apply to residents who are about to be or who have been receiving federal emergency unemployment benefits for less than 28 weeks, Hutchison said. Those who have been receiving benefits longer and are nearing the end of the 37-week benefit period will not see cuts.
Those receiving state-funded unemployment benefits will also not see a cut, Hutchison said. Those who apply and receive unemployment in Washington stay on the state plan for up to 26 weeks and are enrolled in the federal unemployment program if they are still unable to find work.
Hutchison said the average weekly benefit in the state is $374. Even those receiving the minimum benefit of $143 per week will see that amount reduced to $112 per week.
Currently, recipients on average are paid about 40 percent of their income prior to losing their job.
The cuts will reduce federal unemployment spending by about $30 million statewide through the end of the calendar year, Hutchison said.
The cuts were so large in part because the federal fiscal year ends in September and the U.S. Department of Labor, which runs the program, had to fit the cuts in a short window of time to meet the requirements of the sequester.
State officials have to implement a cut of 21 percent because the cuts are occurring two and a half months after the sequester went into effect. Hutchison said the state took that long because the agency still distributes benefits using a computer system from the 1980s, which required extensive work to implement changes.
The state has to play catchup to meet the prescribed spending cuts as a result, she said.
“Because the sequester didn’t take effect until the middle of the (fiscal) year, you’re essentially taking a whole year of cuts in six months,” Hutchison said.
The department is using direct mail, email and robo-calls to inform residents of the change to their benefits. Affected recipients can also learn more at www.esd.wa.gov.