- The Washington Times - Friday, December 20, 2002

D.C. officials say they have depleted the fund to pay hotel and other tourism industry workers laid off after September 11 and that their last unemployment checks will be issued on Dec. 28.

More than 1,000 unemployed D.C. workers may have a rough go of it this holiday season, said officials with the Department of Employment Services. Eligible workers receiving extended benefits under the Temporary Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program may be without income just days after Christmas.

"The week of Dec. 6 there were 1,074 workers filing for the extension. These are the people who will be cut off," said Gregg Irish, employment services director.

The national program, passed by Congress in March, has served about 10,000 people in the District. It was established to help unemployed workers cope with the deluge of layoffs after the events of September 11.

The District and numerous other cities around the country have suffered from heavy losses in tourism and hospitality revenue because of travel fears after the terrorist attacks.

CNN reported this week that nearly 750,000 workers around the nation will be cut off from benefits when the program expires next week. The compensation provided 13 weeks of additional benefits to individuals who exhausted their unemployment assistance covered by local governments.

Those receiving benefits must be active in seeking employment, Mr. Irish said, but most companies won't begin hiring until the middle to end of January.

"At this time of year it is very difficult to find employment, and when you take into account the faltering economy it is extremely tough," Mr. Irish said.

D.C. employment services has spent $35 million on the extended benefits. The funding comes from the Federal Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.

It is not just D.C. residents who will be affected under the city's unemployment coverage lapse.

"Our employment rolls include people who live in Maryland and Virginia. Benefit eligibility is based on where you work, not where you live," Mr. Irish said.

"Congress should have focused on helping these people. They had jobs and lost them because of a tragic event, and this is a difficult time for people to be out of work and then taking away their safety net."

After September 11, the employment office claimant rates increased by 1,000 per month from 2,000 to 3,000.

Congress adjourned last month without passing an extension to appropriate funds to maintain the benefits program. A large number of claimants will have remaining program balances after the cutoff date. Without the funds, employment services can't pay them.

"Our staff will continue to work with unemployed residents to provide job search assistance in spite of a tightening economy," Mr. Irish said.

"We look forward to Congress returning and passing the necessary legislation to reinstate promised benefits," Mr. Irish said.

President Bush has urged Congress to extend the benefits when it convenes in early January, and said that extension should be made retroactive to cover the number of weeks workers go without compensation checks.

Mr. Irish said extending the employment benefits should be Congress' top priority.

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