WARREN - Action this week by Congress to avert what has become known as the "fiscal cliff" could mean an extension in unemployment benefits for thousands of Ohioans, including more than 2,700 out-of-work Trumbull and Mahoning County workers.
About 66,000 jobless Ohioans who are still in search of work may be able to renew their benefits under the federally funded Emergency Unemployment Compensation program after 26 weeks of state unemployment benefits expire, according to information released by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
Congress' extension could mean an additional 28 weeks of federal compensation, lasting until Dec. 28.
Some of the 1,000 or so steelworkers laid off from Warren's idled RG Steel plant are among those whose state unemployment benefits were set to run out in late December and who were waiting to see if Congress would renew the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.
Darryl Parker, president of United Steelworkers Local 1375, which covers laid-off workers from RG Steel, said he has been receiving phone calls from laid-off steelworkers eager to take advantage of the federal extension.
''Some have exhausted their (state) benefits this month. They still have to pay their health care. They are anxious," Parker said.
Workers laid off from RG Steel also are eligible for the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance program, or TAA, created to help workers who have lost their jobs as a result of increased imports or shifts in production out of the United States.
TAA trade benefits include a weekly cash benefit and funding for retraining. Eligible participants must be accepted into qualified courses and meet specific criteria, including required deadlines.
According to ODJFS spokeswoman Angela Terez, trade assistance participants can continue to receive unemployment compensation and still remain qualified for the trade assistance program, if they choose to take advantage of that program later.
Parker noted several laid-off steelworkers are taking advantage of the TAA program.
Lawmakers first created the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation extension program during the "great recession" based on the state's unemployment rate. After peaking at 10.6 percent during the recession, Ohio's unemployment rate has averaged less than 7 percent in September, October and November. That means the maximum amount of compensation now available, including state unemployment compensation, will decrease from 63 weeks to 54 weeks beginning next week.
Beginning Jan. 12, eligible Ohioans can continue to collect up to 26 weeks of state unemployment compensation and an additional 28 weeks of federal compensation.