Panel Paper: Economic Circumstances of Individuals Who Exhausted U.I. Benefits

Friday, November 9, 2012 : 2:00 PM
Baltimore Theatre (Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Gale Harris, Rhiannon Claire Patterson and Yunsian Tai, U.S. Government Accountability Office

During the period 2007 to 2009, 15 million people were displaced from jobs, according to data from the Census Bureau’s Displaced Workers Supplement. Despite federal and state actions to temporarily extend Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits from the normal 26 weeks to up to 99 weeks for certain individuals, many workers exhaust their UI benefits without finding a new job. This raises questions about: (1) the economic circumstances of UI exhaustees, (2) how other safety net programs, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), have aided UI exhaustees, and (3) the efforts of state UI agencies to connect those exhausting UI to these programs.

GAO merged individual data from the 2010 Displaced Worker Supplement with the Annual Social and Economic Supplement to examine the employment status and economic circumstances of UI exhaustees.  We found that many faced unemployment and difficult circumstances. Among the 2 million people who lost jobs from 2007 and 2009 and had exhausted UI by January 2010, 46 percent were unemployed at the time of the interview. Most exhaustees, however, appeared to have worked at some point in 2009 or to have been supported by another household member who was working, and about 40 percent had some income from assets. Nevertheless, UI exhaustees’ had high poverty rates —18 percent compared to 13 percent among all working-age adults in 2009, and more than 40 percent had incomes of below 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold.

UI exhaustees have turned to two main programs for support, Social Security and SNAP. Specifically, 18 percent of UI exhaustees’ households received Social Security retirement, disability insurance, or survivors benefits in 2009, and 15 percent received SNAP benefits. Relatively few (less than 3 percent) of exhaustee households received TANF cash benefits, which is generally targeted to very low-income families with children. However, most exhaustees would have been unlikely to qualify for TANF because they did not have minor children. Some exhaustee households also received Supplemental Security Income, veterans, and workers compensation benefits.

GAO conducted a survey of state UI agencies to examine whether states make efforts to connect those exhausting benefits to other support programs.  While there are no federal requirements and no federal UI funds allocated for this purpose, GAO’s survey suggests that most (45) state agencies made some efforts to do so. UI agencies made these connections in a variety of ways, such as through websites, mailings, staff referrals, and interagency coordination. For example, some states developed notices or websites informing UI exhaustees about a range of government programs and community resources, including food assistance, cash assistance, health insurance, foreclosure prevention, and job search services. In one state, the UI agency shared data with the workforce development and human services agencies so that those agencies could target subsidized employment and SNAP benefits to UI exhaustees. Another state has a multiagency workgroup to develop coordinated outreach strategies for UI exhaustees, which includes representatives from social, health, veterans, commerce, higher education, and workforce agencies

Full Paper: