Local long-term unemployed face end of benefits program
by Eddie Burkhalter
eburkhalter@annistonstar.com
Dec 27, 2013 | 3136 views |  0 comments | 59 59 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Patricia Surrett, human resources coordinator at Operation 1st Rate in the Quintard Mall, works with a client. Photo by Stephen Gross.
Patricia Surrett, human resources coordinator at Operation 1st Rate in the Quintard Mall, works with a client. Photo by Stephen Gross.
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James Drowns got his first extended unemployment benefit check the week before Christmas.

He’ll get just one more before the program ends, and said he’s unsure how he’ll manage once the money is gone.

Drowns is one of about 473 long-term unemployed in Calhoun County who will no longer receive the money after the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program expires Saturday.

The federal program began in 2008 as a way to help the long-term unemployed as a result of the Great Recession. Congress chose not to extend the program as part of the budget deal reached this month.

Drowns, a 57-year-old machine operator, was laid off from his job at BAE Systems in July.

The state’s regular program provided him with $238 each week for 26 weeks, but the extended federal program would have helped him for another 28 weeks, for a total of 54 weeks.

“I don’t know what I’ll do,” Drowns said. “My house is paid for, but I’ll have to turn the utilities off, I guess.”

Drowns said with no other income in his household it has been difficult living on unemployment benefits, and although he spends hours each week looking for a job — a requirement of the program — he’s had no luck.

“I’d do just about anything,” he said. “They’ll send out that last check and that’ll be it.”

About 11,400 Alabamians received payments through the extended benefits program last week, said Tara Hutchison, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Labor. The maximum weekly benefit through the program is $265, and the average weekly payment is $208, Hutchison said.

The county’s unemployment rate decreased to 6.1 percent in November from 7.3 percent in October, according to statistics released Dec. 20 by the Alabama Department of Labor, but the drop was mainly due to the creation of seasonal retail jobs.

About 15 percent of the 3,152 unemployed persons in the county in November were considered to be long-term unemployed, meaning they had been out of work for 27 weeks or more.

There were about 4.1 million long-term unemployed Americans in November, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which accounted for 37 percent of the country’s total unemployed.

Sherri Sumners, who oversees the Anniston-based Operation 1st Rate job-placement program, said a large percentage of the agency’s clients are long-term unemployed.

The job program has helped 615 people find work since it began in August 2011, Sumners said. There are currently about 1,820 job-seekers registered with the agency.

“It’s been really steady the last couple of months,” Sumners said. “We’re seeing about 15 new clients each day.”

Shad Williams, president and CEO of Cheaha Bank, said bankers are concerned about the expiration of the Emergency Unemployment Program.

After five years of living through a recession, many of the families that receive the extended unemployment benefit have found a way to cope, he said, but “declining resources don’t make it any easier.”

Williams also worries that the end of the program will take that money out of the local economy, which could hurt area businesses.

“That hurts the whole community,” Williams said.

About $390,000 was paid to Calhoun County recipients in November through the extended benefits program, based on the average weekly payment of $208.

“Hopefully Congress will come back and do something about it. It’s not the way we need to do things right now. We need to get out of this economic hole, and we aren’t out yet.”

The Operation 1st Rate office is located in Quintard Mall and can be reached at 256-770-7245.

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.

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