UPDATED 12/16/11 9:50 a.m.

An estimated 17,600 Hawaii residents receiving unemployment checks would see their benefits exhausted in 2012 unless Congress agrees to re-extend benefits for them before the end of this year.

The length of time Americans can draw unemployment benefits is set to revert back to the pre-recession level of 26 weeks, or six months, at year’s end.

The federal government had extended benefits for up to 99 weeks for states with high or rising unemployment — the longest period since the unemployment insurance program was created in the 1930s. During the recession, Hawaii has been eligible for up to 73 weeks of beenfits, according to Bill Kunstman, spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

UPDATE: Since the emergency benefits began in 2008, Hawaii residents have received a total of $674 million in extended benefits through November, Kunstman said. The state handled about 9,300 claims for emergency benefits in November.

Hawaii’s unemployment rate peaked in June 2009 at 7 percent. The rate in October was at 6.5 percent, and stayed below 6.5 percent in all of 2010.

The 17,600 figure refers to Hawaii residents currently receiving the extended emergency benefits, according to a report released Thursday by the White House.

A total of 51,159 people in Hawaii have drawn emergency benefits as of October 2011, according to the report. Nationally, 17.9 million people have received the lengthened beenfits since 2008.

The benefits have been a lifeline for millions of job seekers as the economy struggles to recover. The national unemployment rate was at 8.6 percent in November. That month, 5.7 million people nationwide had been out of work for more than 26 weeks, according to the report.

Total emergency benefit payments so far in 2011 have averaged $5 billion per month.

Hawaii residents on unemployment receive an average $425 a week, and up to a $549 max. Nationally, the average is $293 a week.

Obama has proposed a one-year extension to the program. He warned Congress on Thursday not to leave town without extending the federal payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance.

UPDATE: An extension seems likely under a $1 trillion spending plan congressional negotiators agreed to Thursday evening. But lawmakers have not yet agreed on how to pay for the extension, according to The Associated Press.

The House is expected to approve the spending measure Friday, sending it to the Senate.

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