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Up to 60,000 state residents to lose unemployment benefits at end of 2012

Up to 60,000 people in Washington state will be shut off of unemployment benefits when the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program ends on Dec. 29.

Since being activated in July 2008, the program has paid more than $5.6 billion in federally funded unemployment benefits to more than 407,000 jobless workers in this state, according to the state's Employment Security Department.

During much of the recession, most unemployed workers could qualify for up to 99 weeks of benefits, including 26 weeks of regular benefits, 53 weeks of emergency unemployment compensation and 20 weeks of extended benefits - paid in that order.

Due to the state's improved unemployment rate, extended benefits shut off last April, and congressional action has reduced extended benefits to a maximum of 37 weeks. After Dec. 29, only regular benefits will be available for most Washington workers.

Although Congress has extended the program 10 times in the past four years, there's currently no indication it will be reauthorized again.

If Congress and the President approve another extension, Employment Security Department officials will automatically notify anyone who claimed the extended benefits during one or more weeks in December.

Over the next few weeks, Employment Security personnel will send emails, robocalls and direct mail to recipients reminding them the program is ending.

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