CARSON CITY, Nevada — Thousands of Nevadans will lose unemployment assistance days after Christmas under a budget deal worked out by congressional negotiators that omits continuation of federal jobless benefits implemented at the height of the recession.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Wednesday praised the agreement as a step toward ending gridlock in Congress, but said he was disappointed it didn't include extension of federal jobless benefits.
"Neither side got everything it wanted in these negotiations," Reid said on the Senate floor. He said he will push for an extension of unemployment insurance, as well as an increase in the minimum wage, when the Senate convenes in January.
In the meantime, 17,000 people in Nevada who had exhausted state benefits will be cut off when the program ends Dec. 28, and 800 people per week after that will be cut as they exhaust the 26-week maximum for state benefits, according to the Nevada Division of Employment Security.
Nationally, about 1.3 million people will abruptly lose assistance.
The federal program was implemented in 2008, when Nevada and other states were crushed by the weight of the recession and unemployment skyrocketed. In hard-it states, the federal government provided jobless benefits beyond the state program to a maximum of 99 weeks. The federal program was reduced last year but still provided assistance to the long-term unemployed for up to 73 weeks.
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said "providing a safety net for those in need is one of the federal government's most important responsibilities."
Heller, who has supported extensions in the past, said he would do so again "if given an opportunity to vote for it on the Senate floor."
Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., co-signed a letter to House leaders requesting that chamber consider a temporary extension of emergency unemployment insurance. Fellow Nevada Republican Rep. Mark Amodei was open to alternatives that would help those most in need, his office said.
Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., urged restoration of the federal benefits.
"We should not adjourn until we get this done," Horsford said. "Congress needs to help struggling families, not give them a lump of coal during the holiday season."
While the economy has been improving, Nevada still has the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 9.3 percent.
Elliott Parker, an economist at the University of Nevada, Reno, said the loss of extended benefits could reduce Nevada's unemployment rate because some of the long-term unemployed may stop looking for work.
"Is that a good thing? Not really, no," he said in an email, saying there are still too few jobs for everyone who wants to work.
"Part of the falling unemployment rate has been because people have dropped out of the workforce," he said. "Some of that is the aging of the baby boom, but many of the missing workers are in prime working years."