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12:12 PM Mon, Sept. 24th

Arizonans facing cuts in unemployment benefits

PHOENIX (AP) - Thousands of out-of-work Arizona residents are facing a loss of benefits this summer as Congress aims to cut long-term assistance to the unemployed.

The state Department of Economic Security planned this week to begin notifying people affected by the loss of weeks' worth of benefits.

The department said residents received as many as 99 weeks of unemployment aid during the height of the recession. The agency said it will go down to 79 weeks starting June 22.

The department estimates about 700 people could lose their benefits each week. The change should not affect the state's unemployment assistance program - which allows up to 26 weeks of aid amounting to no more than $240 each week.

According to the department, more than half of the 89,000 Arizonans getting unemployment assistance also receive federal aid.

If Arizona's jobless rate drops significantly, benefits could be reduced to 54 weeks.

Mark Darmer, a DES deputy assistant director, said when Congress renewed emergency funds in December for the long-term unemployed, lawmakers added triggers to gradually pare down how many people would be eligible.

"We anticipated this," Darmer said. "This could not have gone on forever."

One condition is after June 1, a state must have an unemployment rate of 9 percent or higher over a three-month period to qualify for specific benefits. DES said it expects Arizona's jobless rate to be below that number in June.

The unemployment rate for May, which will be released Thursday, is likely to fall below 8.5 percent. If the state jobless rate decreases to below 7 percent, officials believe more Arizona residents could lose benefits.

DES estimated the number of residents looking for work at about 223,700 - more than the number of people receiving aid. Those who will lose their unemployment benefits this summer are likely workers who need expert assistance in job searching, according to some staffing agencies.

"People who had been in jobs for longer periods of time who got laid off are not as acclimated to today's job market," said Kathy Thiessen, a supervisor at Phoenix Workforce Connection, one of the workforce agencies that will counsel workers who will lose benefits.