As economic downturn lingers, help runs out for the unemployed

Maria Madera doesn’t know what she’s going to do on July 16 when her weekly unemployment checks stop.

“They’re done,” said the single mother who was laid off from an insurance company almost two years ago.

Madera is studying for an associate’s degree in social services at Capital Community College; she’ll have another semester to go after her benefits expire. The need to get a job when her benefits expire leaves her educational future uncertain.

“It’s like a snowball effect,” she told state legislators and agency leaders at the State Capitol Monday. “I don’t want to lose my house.”


Maria Madera: ‘I don’t want to lose my house’

Madera’s situation is not uncommon.

As the economic downturn lingers and unemployment rate hovers around 9 percent, the number of jobless residents who reach the 99-week maximum for unemployment compensation continues to skyrocket. Every week about 600 people’s unemployment benefits expire, the State Department of Labor reports. That number was 500 people a week at the beginning of last year.

“This is an issue we’ve never had to deal with before. This is a new phenomenon,” said Glenn Marshall, the commissioner for the DOL.

Statewide, 43,791 people had their unemployment benefits expire during the last 10 months. Workforce development groups estimate that number is expected to rise to almost 76,000 by the end of the year.

“I think the big question is what we’re going to do,” said Speaker of the House Christopher Donovan, D-Meriden. “We’re looking for ideas.”

The issue was raised during a meeting at the State Capitol on the impact of the recession on children. Several state legislators, state agency leaders and child advocates attended the three-hour long forum. The long-term unemployment rate in Connecticut — workers who have been out of work for six months or more — is the fourth highest in the country, Connecticut Voices for Children reported last September.

Joseph M. Carbone, who helps residents in Southwestern Connecticut find jobs and provide job training, said it is troubling that so many people each week will lose their only source of income. There were 126,281 people receiving unemployment benefits last week.

“We can see something developing that is frightening to us,” Carbone said, president of The Workplace, Inc. “These are our teachers, hedge fund operators, mechanics, engineers and factory workers.”

During a discussion at the State Capitol Monday, Carbone said aside from helping these workers find a job, making sure the safety net remains is equally important. The average weekly unemployment check is $300.

“They’re broke,” he said. “The number of people [whose benefits are expiring] is really challenging and stunning.”