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Emergency unemployment benefits expiring, thousands affected

SPOKANE, Wash. - 23675996

Thousands of people in eastern Washington will lose money for their families starting Saturday. Emergency unemployment benefits are expiring, unless Congress votes to extend them.

Standard unemployment benefits can last up to six months, but the program being cut was created during the recession to help people after that time. In Washington, the emergency benefits can last up to 37 weeks.

"We will notify you if any extensions become available," Emily Norton read from a letter.

The number of families in Spokane County who received the same letter was 1,480. Saturday, all of them will lose Emergency Unemployment Benefits or EUC. On average, each was paid about 380 dollars a week.

"It's not like we're the people who are sitting on unemployment," Norton said.

Norton's husband lost his truck-driving job in April, and now is going back to school to be a mechanic. She's attending classes as well. When the family's initial unemployment ran out after a couple months, the emergency benefits helped them get by.

"We're students right now, we're trying to make the steps to get really good jobs so that we don't need to have assistance," Norton said.

Spokane County has the most people affected by the expiration in eastern Washington at 1,480. Other counties include:

-Grant 291

-Stevens 111

-Whitman 38

-Lincoln 21

25,000 people across Washington will be see their benefits cut.

Since 2008, almost 454,000 people in Washington were given $6.3 billion from the federal government.

Sheryl Hutchison is the Communications Manager at the Employment Security Department in Olympia. She says the program has always been temporary. Congress has extended the program 11 times since it was created in July 2008.

"Just basically because it was a very unusual length and depth of a recession," Hutchison said on the phone. "So what they've continued to do over the past five years, is continue to expand this program."

This month, a budget deal in Congress didn't include an extension.

That means families like Emily's won't get a check. She says they usually arrived on Tuesdays. This Tuesday, New Year's Eve, they'll spend it planning instead of celebrating.

"We don't have any other source of income until one of us finds a job," she said.

A member of congress has brought up a plan to extend the benefits for three months, but it hasn't been voted on yet.