In Texas, thousands face a lengthy gap in unemployment benefits

AUSTIN - Up to 15,000 jobless Texans are expected to exhaust their unemployment benefits by the end of July and could be without benefits for more than a month and possibly longer as state officials struggle to implement a 13-week extension.

In another somber indication of the recession’s effect on Texas, the state’s unemployment trust fund will plummet to zero next week.

Officials with the Texas Workforce Commission are moving ahead with plans to borrow $643 million, interest-free, from the federal government to continue paying claims through Oct. 1. Under the federal recovery act, Texas can continue interest-free federal borrowing through December 2010.

Texas has been on a troubling path toward a trust fund deficit for months as paid claims have more than doubled since 2008. The state’s climbing jobless rate sparked a debate in the recent legislative session over Gov. Rick Perry’s decision to reject $555 million in unemployment stimulus money, which he said would impose a long-term tax burden on Texas employers.

Commission spokeswoman Ann Hatchitt said state officials have been scrambling to implement a 13-week extension but have been delayed by complex federal regulations and computer problems, meaning that the added assistance will be unavailable to thousands of people.

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