Unemployed get benefits extension for up to 13 weeks

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By Johnathan Ryan

With 3,900 letters going out to Lancaster County residents possibly eligible for extended unemployment benefits last week, lines have been long at the local S.C. Employment Commission office in recent days.

The office on North White Street has been open for special hours since Saturday to handle the new claims, which are good for 13 weeks of additional unemployment benefits.

Roughly 390 people showed up at the employment office Saturday to sign up for the extended benefits, said local Assistant Director David Veal. Lines snaked around the building on Monday.

Those whose regular benefits of 26 weeks ended sometime on or after May 1, 2007, should have received a letter. If you hope to get the benefit, you need to go by the employment commission office, where final eligibility is determined.

"If they sign up, it only takes five minutes," Veal said. "If they sign up today, they should have a check by the end of the week."

Twelve employment counselors worked Monday to get residents signed up.

Heath Springs resident Nancy Gaither, who has been unemployed since 2006 after being laid off from Springs Global's Grace plant, is eligible for the extended benefits.

Unemployment benefits have been her only source of income while out of work.

"I have been trying to get a job since then. They have been saying they'll call back and they haven't," she said while waiting to see a counselor.

Gaither has completed workshops on resume building and WorkKeys certification at the center. She hopes she'll find employment soon.

Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law a bill on June 30 to allocate money for the extended benefits.

Throughout the spring and early summer, the country has been seeing higher unemployment rates. In May, the unemployment rate was 5.5 percent, the largest the nation had seen in four years.

In May, Lancaster County's unemployment rate was 10.3 percent, and in April it was 10.8 percent, its highest rate in some time, said Lancaster County Employment Security Commission Area Director Lynda Burke.

Layoffs from Springs Global and other manufacturers engaged in international labor outsourcing and trade have caused the spike, she said.

"Lancaster County has the largest number of trade-affected workers in the state," she said.

If one is now working, he or she is not eligible for the extended benefits, but those who have worked within their one-year unemployment claim period but are now unemployed are still eligible, if they have exhausted their regular benefits.

If regular benefits have not been used, they are still eligible for those.

A number of reasons factor into the total amount of unemployment benefits available to an individual, such as whether one lost his or her job due to international trade factors.

The employment commission office will be open during its regular hours today from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and then from 5 to 7:30 p.m. to serve the laid-off workers looking for extended benefits.

For details on unemployment benefits, call the local employment commission office at 285-6966, or visit it at 705 N. White St.

Contact reporter Johnathan Ryan at jryan@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416