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Good news for the jobless

The federal government shutdown in October generated one dubiously positive result: it helped to lift the state’s unemployment rate enough to reactivate nine weeks of long-term unemployment benefits that were shut off in August.

Currently in Washington state, jobless workers can claim up to 54 weeks of unemployment benefits, including 26 weeks of regular, state-paid benefits and 28 weeks of federally funded emergency unemployment compensation.

Nationwide, unemployment compensation is paid in a series of four tiers. All states qualify for tier 1, but tiers 2 through 4 are tied to a state’s three-month average unemployment rate.

Washington was no longer eligible for tier 4 in April 2012 after the three-month average dropped below 9 percent, and tier 3 was turned off last summer after the three-month average fell below 7 percent.

When the October 2013 unemployment rate was factored in, the three-month average rose again to 7 percent. The federal Department of Labor has directed Washington’s Employment Security Department to restart emergency unemployment compensation tier 3 on Dec. 8.

“It’s ironic that the federal shutdown contributed to the rise in our unemployment rate and caused these benefits to be reactivated,” said Employment Security Commissioner Dale Peinecke.

Unemployed workers who used up their tier 2 benefits after Aug. 10 may become eligible for tier 3 benefits beginning the week of Dec. 8-14.

However, everyone who is claiming unemployment benefits should be aware that the entire emergency unemployment compensation program ends on Dec. 28, unless Congress votes to extend it.

The Employment Security Department is using a combination of email, robocalls and letters to alert potentially eligible customers about the change in benefits. Information also has been posted on the department’s website at esd.wa.gov.

About 24,000 people in Washington currently are in emergency unemployment compensation tiers 1 or 2. Nearly 11,000 individuals may be eligible to claim tier 3 benefits.

Since the program was activated in July 2008, nearly $6.3 billion in emergency unemployment compensation has been paid to about 451,000 jobless workers in Washington state.

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