The flow of people requesting extended unemployment benefits from the local Job Service Center has slowed to a trickle, and some jobless Lawrence residents who got extensions now are back on the employment track.
About one-fourth of the people who received federal emergency benefits in the past two months have found jobs, said Mike Pritchard, manager of the Lawrence unemployment office.
He said more than 100 people applied for and received an extension on their benefits since Nov. 15, when President Bush enacted a $5.3 billion emergency benefits package for 2.8 million unemployed Americans.
Under the program, some unemployed people who exhausted their regular benefits after Feb. 28, 1991, were eligible to receive up to 13 weeks of emergency benefits.
PRITCHARD said most of the people drawing benefits from the Lawrence office are skilled in manual labor, such as factory work or construction.
Many of the construction workers signed up for benefits around the holidays, when many construction projects traditionally grind to a halt.
Because the weather since Christmas has been relatively warm, many of the construction workers found jobs and canceled their benefits, Pritchard said.
The Lawrence office was flooded with applications during the first two weeks of the extension program, Pritchard said. He had reported that 73 people filed applications on the first business day after the benefits bill became law.
The wave of applicants has leveled off since November, he said.
Ironically, the emergency benefits package increased the workload of the staffs of job service offices across Kansas.
THE LAWRENCE office only has one full-time employee to handle benefit claims. That employee, Pritchard said, also helps unemployed workers find jobs.
Since the program went into effect, that employee only has had time to handle the benefit claims, even with the help of three receptionists.
"Everybody pitched in," Pritchard said. "We've probably handled this better than a lot of the other offices."
Providing extended benefits takes about three times the work for job sevice employees as processing regular benefits, said Bill Clawson, state chief of unemployment insurance benefits.
Most unemployment offices were not set up for the extra paperwork and regulations sprung on them by the emergency benefits package.
"This was one of those things that Congress didn't really understand when they passed it," he said.
SOME OF THE extra work was created by stricter eligibility guidelines for the extended benefits, Clawson said.
To receive the emergency benefits, unemployed people must make at least three contacts with potential employers or employment agencies every week. Job service workers must verify the contacts.
Job seekers on the program must take the first job they are offered, Clawson said. Anyone on the program who turns down a job loses eligibility for any futher unemployment benefits.
People who are ineligible for benefits must find work and earn four times their weekly benefit in four weeks before they can regain eligibility.
When the benefits extension was enacted, state officials sent letters to potentially eligible people and set up a toll-free number (1-800-223-5760) to provide information.