CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) -- Thousands of long-term unemployed Nevadans will lose jobless benefits after the holidays as a federal emergency stop-gap program is set to expire, state officials said Wednesday.
The Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation said 25,000 Nevadans currently receiving extended unemployment will be cut off Jan. 2 and an additional 1,000 claimants will be dropped each week afterward unless Congress votes to continue the program — an uncertain prospect as Congress confronts the looming "fiscal cliff," a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts set to take effect Jan. 1.
In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he supports extending federal jobless assistance, saying it is "an important component of our economic recovery."
"Many hard-working Nevadans remain out of work through no fault of their own," Reid said in an email to The Associated Press. "We can continue our economic recovery by first making sure it doesn't fall back into recession."
Stewart Bybee, spokesman for Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said Heller has a long history of fighting for the unemployed "and will closely evaluate any proposal that extends unemployment benefits."
Heller supported extending unemployment benefits in the past and said he believes government should provide a safety net for the downtrodden.
Nevada's state unemployment program provides up to 26 weeks of benefits. In 2008, at the height of the recession, Congress enacted federal assistance to provide people in hard-hit states like Nevada with up to 99 weeks of jobless benefits.
But as the economy has slowly improved, the federal extended program — known as emergency unemployment compensation or EUC — has been scaled back. In July, the maximum number of weeks to receive benefits fell to 79. In September, six more weeks of eligibility were cut, bringing the total down to 73.
"The last week payable for EUC benefits is Dec. 29, which means those claimants on EUC will stop receiving benefits even if they still have balances remaining on their claims," said Renee Olson, administrator of the state Employment Security Division. "In the past, claimants have been allowed to continue receiving benefits through the end of the tier they were in."
Currently, 32,000 people are receiving regular state jobless benefits in Nevada. Their assistance will expire after 26 weeks.
Nevada has led the nation in unemployment since May 2010. Nevada's rate fell slightly to 11.5 percent in October, well above the national rate of 7.9 percent, but 156,600 Nevadans remained out of work.
"We understand the severity of this situation and sympathize with our citizens who are still having a difficult time finding employment," said DETR Director Frank Woodbeck.
He encouraged the unemployed to visit Nevada JobConnect, a state job placement and counseling agency, "so that our counselors can assist them with job placement and training needs as they pursue gainful employment."