By DOUG WILSON
Herald-Whig Senior Writer
Extended unemployment benefits that end this weekend could affect 1.3 million Americans, according to federal estimates.
The sunset of the federal government's "emergency unemployment compensation" will be felt by enrollees who have been receiving an average monthly stipend of $1,166 per month.
In Illinois, nearly 82,000 people are expected to lose benefits. Jay Rowell, director of the Illinois Department of Employment Security said it's a mistake to end the program "based on a calender date, rather than economic principles," and it could hurt the economic recovery.
Marcel Wagner Jr., president of the Great River Economic Development Foundationn in Quincy, sees two likely effects of the program's sunset.
"It does impact people's buying power. If they're not getting benefits, they can't make purchases," Wagner said.
"It also may force some people back into the labor pool ... who have found it more advantageous to stay home and receive benefits than to work."
Started under President George W. Bush, the benefits were designed as a cushion for the millions of U.S. citizens who lost their jobs in a recession and failed to find new ones while receiving state jobless benefits -- which in most states expire after six months.
The Obama administration says those payments have kept 11.4 million recipients out of poverty and benefited almost 17 million children. The cost since 2008 has been $225 billion.
"When Congress comes back to work, their first order of business should be making this right," President Barack Obama said last week at his year-end news conference.
At the depth of the recession, laid off workers could qualify for up to 99 weeks of benefits, including the initial 26 weeks provided by states. The most recent extension allowed up to 73 weeks, depending on the state.
Restoring up to 47 extra weeks of benefits through 2014 would cost $19 billion, according to the Congressional Budget office.
House Speaker John Boehner spoke with Obama about an extension earlier this month. Boehner said his caucus would consider the possibility "as long as it's paid for and as long as there are other efforts that will help get our economy moving once again."
Boehner said the White House has yet to introduce a plan that meets his standards.
News of the unemployment rollback overshadowed Friday's release of local unemployment figures.
Jobless rates remained fairly stable in West-Central Illinois and Northeast Missouri. Most counties in the region have jobless rates that are lower than the state or federal numbers.
"We've done pretty well in the local economy. Our unemployment (rates) are still pretty low. We have not heard of any layoffs of any substance. I think we're holding our own and doing a little better than some places," Wagner said.
Knox County, Mo., reported the lowest unemployment rate in the state of Missouri for the second month in a row with only 3.4 percent of the work force receiving benefits.
Brown County maintained its long record of having the lowest unemployment in Illinois, with 4.0 percent of the work force receiving benefits.
The Associated Press provided information for this story.