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Associated Press, Published August 24 2010

Unemployment benefits ending sooner in Dakotas, Nebraska

LINCOLN, Neb. – Unemployed workers in North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska and can’t qualify for benefits beyond 60 weeks because unemployment rates remain so low.

Payments to workers in those Plains states are ending sooner because the benefits Congress approved deliver more help in areas where unemployment is highest, according to Labor Department officials.

Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota are the only states with unemployment rates that average below 6 percent, so those states qualify for only two of the four tiers of extended benefits.

In 31 states where unemployment has averaged above 8.5 percent over three months, some workers will be eligible to receive up to 99 weeks of additional unemployment benefits after the customary state benefits of 26 weeks ended.

North Dakota’s unemployment rate remained the lowest in the nation in July at 3.6 percent. South Dakota’s rate was second best at 4.4 percent, and Nebraska had the third-lowest at 4.7 percent.

State labor officials say they can’t do anything to change who is eligible.

“This was a decision made by Congress,” Nebraska Labor Commissioner Catherine Lang said.

Nationwide, the average unemployment check is about $309 a week, though they vary widely from state to state. The amount of benefits a worker receives also depends on how much the recipient earned while they were working.

A tax on employers pays for the benefits.

But many people who are unemployed don’t receive benefits because only those who lost jobs through no fault of their own are eligible. And applicants must meet other conditions set by the states.

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