Ohioans Bracing for Cuts To Federal Jobless Benefits

CINCINNATI (AP) – These days, the only dates Richard Crowe takes his wife on are hunts for bargains at the grocery store.

Crowe, of Wintersville, was laid off last year from RG Steel’s coke plant in nearby Follansbee, W.Va., after 34 years with the company. He is among the Ohioans who will see their unemployment checks cut about 16 percent, or an average of about $50 a week, as federal benefits in Ohio are reduced beginning Sunday. Reductions are required of all states under automatic federal spending cuts.

Crowe has relied on unemployment compensation to help pay for necessities like electricity and water and is worried about how he will pay his bills.

“We’re already living on the bare essentials,” Crowe, 54, said. “But we will have to try to cut back even more, if possible.”

When unemployed Ohioans run out of eligibility for state benefits after 26 weeks, they can move into the federal program. About 37,000 people now receive the federal jobless benefits in Ohio, though state officials don’t know exactly how many will be affected by the spending cuts.

The federal program consists of two stages of benefits of 14 weeks each. A third nine-week stage will be available starting Sunday because Ohio’s most recent three-month average unemployment rate increased to about 7 percent.

Only states with unemployment rates at 7 percent or above qualify for that stage.

The average weekly compensation of around $313 a week will drop to about $263 for Ohioans when they enter the federal benefits program or move to a new stage within the program, state officials say. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services estimates the total reduction will amount to $25 million between now and the end of the federal fiscal year, Sept. 30.

Currently, 91,000 Ohioans receive regular state unemployment compensation, and those benefits won’t be cut, said Job and Family Services spokesman Benjamin Johnson.

Despite the extension, Crowe says the reductions will hurt.

“We already don’t travel anywhere or eat out, and if I can’t make payments for my son’s college education, we could lose our home,” he said.

Crowe says he searches seven days a week for employment, but “it’s tough for older workers to find a job.”

While states are allowed to set their own times and methods, the goal is to get all states to implement the reductions before July, according to a U.S. Department of Labor spokesman.