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Jobless checks shrinking for many in Illinois

Ill. residents see 16.8 percent cut in unemployment benefits

MARENGO – Eddie Weingartner is about six weeks into his most recent stint with unemployment.

His hope, of course, is that he doesn’t reach 10 or 12 or 15 weeks.

But for Weingartner and others, worst of all could be reaching the 27-week milestone – the point at which unemployment benefits no longer are funded by the state, but instead by the federal government.

Thanks to the widespread federal spending cuts known as the sequester, federal unemployment aid targeting the long-term unemployed – those jobless for between 27 and 73 weeks – has been significantly cut this summer. In Illinois, the benefits were cut by 16.8 percent starting June 10, effectively reducing by an average of $51 the unemployment checks of 80,000 Illinois residents receiving the benefits.

For Weingartner, who lost his job at an Arlington Heights industrial software company in 2009 and has since held a couple of short-term positions through a temp agency, it’s a scary proposition to think his already sub-$200 unemployment check might shrink.

“I’ve been on unemployment for six weeks already, and no prospects right now,” he said. “You hope that something will kick in in the next couple of months.”

An automatic 10 percent sequestration cut went into place after Congress and President Barack Obama’s administration failed to reach a budget deal by an established March 1 deadline.

Illinois’ unemployment cut of 16.8 percent is steeper because it took the state a few months to implement the reductions. For Illinoisans and the residents of at least 31 other states that similarly delayed the reductions, according to the Pew Research Center, that means cuts must be higher to make up for lost time.

And there’s no word yet on whether the cuts will end when the federal fiscal year changes over in October.

“We’ve been given no direction yet as to whether or not that sequestration will continue past Sept. 30,” said Greg Rivara, public information officer for the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

Illinois residents receive unemployment checks that range from $51 a week to $562 a week. The average check is about $320, Rivara said.

For residents relying on those checks for basic needs, any reduction hurts.

“How do you pay the rent?” Reeks said. “You can’t pay the rent, let alone pay the utilities, let alone feed your children.”

Cuts to federal long-term unemployment aid in Illinois

• Number of residents receiving long-term unemployment benefits: 80,000

• Percentage cut from unemployment as of June 10: 16.8 percent

• Average long-term unemployment check: $320

• Cut to average long-term unemployment check: $51

Source: Illinois Department of Employment Security

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