EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 19, 2013

Thousands due to lose federal unemployment benefits Dec. 28

ValleyWorks Career Center ready to help jobless

By Sara Brown

---- — HAVERHILL — Arthur Chilingirian, director of ValleyWorks Career Center, is gearing up to assist some of the 58,000 people in Massachusetts who are due to lose their federal unemployment benefits at the end of the month.

“It’s a bad time of year for this to happen. It’s going to hurt a lot of people,” he said. “We are willing to work with them and help them any way we can.”

With an extension of unemployment benefits not included in a Congressional budget bill speeding toward the president’s desk, approximately 58,000 people in Massachusetts are scheduled to lose their benefits.

According to the state, a small percentage of those individuals will be eligible to “open, re-open or resume” a state claim for benefits in cases where an individual worked during the past year and earned enough wages to qualify under certain circumstances. A large portion, however, will lose access to unemployment benefits Dec. 28 unless Congress acts to extend the federal program, which could cost as much as $25 billion for a full year.

The ValleyWorks Career Center (VWCC) can help those struggling to find employment. VWCC is a one-stop career center, providing a wide range of services to job seekers and businesses, youth to adults in the Merrimack Valley. They are located in Lawrence and Haverhill.

While most states provide 26 weeks of unemployment benefits before federal benefits kick in for the long-term unemployed, Massachusetts offers up to 30 weeks. Since 2008, Congress has authorized a federal extension of benefits that allows the unemployed to access benefits for up to 47 weeks more, or 77 weeks in total in Massachusetts.

Chilingirian says the timing on this is far from ideal considering the holidays are right around the corner.

The President is also aware this is poor timing for struggling families. Last Friday, President Barack Obama met at the White House with more than a dozen newly elected mayors and mayors-elect from the around the country, including Boston Mayor-elect Marty Walsh. Discussing the budget deal, Obama noted that an unemployment insurance extension was not included and “needs to be right away.”

“You’ve got potentially 1.3 million people during Christmas time that are going to lose their unemployment benefits at a time when it’s still very difficult for a lot of folks to find a job,” Obama said during the meeting. “That’s not just bad for those individuals and those families, that’s bad for our economy and that’s bad for our cities because if they don’t have the money to pay the rent and buy food for their families that has an impact on demand for our businesses and what we know is a failure to extend unemployment benefits is going to have a drag on economic growth next year.”

ValleyWorks Career Center already helps thousands of Merrimack Valley residents get back to work and if the extension doesn’t pass there will be even more people in the area needing assistance.

“There is going to be an influx of people trying to get to work now,” Chilingirian said. “They are going to want to find a job as soon as they can.”

However, Chilingirian said there is a light at the end of the tunnel for people willing to try.

“We have a lot of opportunity for job training that can help people find employment. We also have resume training and interview training. We have countless job fairs people can attend. We will work with people if they work with us,” he said.

The VWCC also offers GED prep, computer lessons and Rosetta Stone lessons for learning English for Non-English speakers.

He does admit that it will be tough on the staff at times.

“In the past two years, our budget has been reduced. It will certainly be hard on the employees if we are serving more people but we can only do the best that we can do,” he said. “We have been keeping an eye on this. Hopefully, this will work out the best way it possibly can.”

Material from the State House News Service is included in this report.

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