When will unemployment checks be mailed? Not soon

By Tami Luhby, senior writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Kevin Landry had to give up his San Diego apartment because he couldn't afford the rent after his federal unemployment benefits were cut off in early June.

Since then, Landry and his cocker spaniel, Curley, have been sleeping in his 1991 Dodge Dakota in a church parking lot. He sold his possessions and applied for food stamps in order to survive.

And even though President Obama signed a measure Thursday that extends benefits through November, Landry knows he won't get his $475 weekly check anytime soon.

The last time Congress allowed the benefits to lapse, it took a month for him to start getting payments again.

"I'll just have to scrape by," said Landry, who lost his job as a credit manager for K2 Skis in September 2008. "There's nothing I can do about it. I've learned to deal with it."

Though Congress has finally pushed the deadline to file for federal extended insurance through Nov. 30, it could take weeks before the jobless start getting their checks again.

Nearly 2.9 million people ran out of benefits in the nearly two months it took Congress to extend the filing deadline beyond June 2.

But just when the checks start hitting bank accounts and mailboxes again depends on the state.

The long delay wreaked havoc on the state unemployment insurance technology that process the payments. States often have to call in experts to reprogram the computer systems, which are an average of 22 years old.

And state officials have to make sure that the unemployed were eligible to receive benefits during the interim. If the jobless stopped looking for work or earned income during June or July, they may not qualify.

"States will move as quickly as possible to resume [federal unemployment] payments, but it will not happen overnight," said Rich Hobbie, executive director of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. "Because the program has lapsed for over a month, state workforce agencies need to ensure that claimants qualify for all retroactive payments."

The unemployed should check their state agency's website for updates or wait for a letter with instructions on restarting their payments and claiming the retroactive sum, said Judy Conti, federal advocacy coordinator at the National Employment Law Project.

Some states asked the jobless to continue sending in the forms certifying they were eligible for payments. The unemployed in those places will likely see their checks sooner.

But it will still take time, said Steve Meissner, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Economic Security, which told its 64,000 claimants who were affected by the lapse to keep filing.

"We will do it as quickly as we can," he said, adding the state is still waiting to receive official guidance from the federal Department of Labor. "There are always some ambiguities because unemployment law is pretty complicated."

The checks, however, can't come too quickly for the jobless. For many, it's the only way they can afford housing, utilities, food and car payments, Conti said.

Vicki Wolf of Lebanon, Pa., is anxiously awaiting her $393 weekly check so she can pay her rent and buy essentials, such as shampoo. The former call center supervisor, who continued sending in her forms to the state, is behind on all her bills because she hasn't had any income since June 5.

Pennsylvania officials said in a statement that those who kept filing their paperwork should receive payment within two weeks. The rest of the more than 200,000 state residents who lost their benefits should submit their claims online as soon as possible.

Wolf, at least, is one of the luckier ones. She starts a new job at a trucking company on Monday, though she won't see her first paycheck until mid-August. Until then, she'll have to walk 45 minutes to work from her home.

"I don't have money to buy gas to put in the car," she said. To top of page

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