CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Local charities are preparing to serve more people in need now that nearly 7,000 jobless West Virginians are without emergency unemployment benefits, which expired Saturday.
"Well, of course we will [see more people]," said Jean Simpson, executive director of Manna Meal, a soup kitchen in downtown Charleston. "I hope not, but of course we will. We are expecting them."
The emergency unemployment benefits were first instituted in 2008 by President George W. Bush, as the tanking economy led to a glut of jobless workers.
Since then, as the improving but still sputtering economy has left millions in the ranks of long-term unemployed, Congress has extended the benefits 11 times, at a total cost of about $225 billion. Nearly 98,000 West Virginians have received emergency unemployment benefits over that time, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
But the budget compromise struck earlier this month did not include an extension of benefits, which meant that 6,933 West Virginians, including 1,332 in Charleston, lost their benefits on Saturday, according to Workforce West Virginia.
"We're prepared whichever way it goes," Simpson said. "This happens all the time. People come in and say, 'I've never had to ask for help before.' It's usually people with their head down."
Nationwide, about 1.3 million people lost unemployment benefits on Saturday. The Labor Department estimates that number will rise to 4.9 million people by the end of 2014, including 24,700 West Virginians, if benefits are not extended.
In 2013 there were about 54,000 unemployed West Virginians and 49 percent of them received unemployment benefits, according to a study by the National Employment Law Project, which supports extending emergency benefits. That percentage will soon fall.
If emergency benefits are not extended, only one in four unemployed Americans will collect unemployment benefits in January, according to the NELP study, the lowest ratio since 1950, when the Labor Department started recording this information.
The Labor Department also predicts that extending unemployment insurance will help save and create jobs, by putting money in the hands of people who would otherwise be unable spend. They estimate that extending benefits through 2014 would save about 1,200 jobs in West Virginia.
West Virginia will continue to offer 26 weeks of regular unemployment benefits, with an average weekly benefit of $276. The emergency benefits had most recently offered up to 54 weeks of benefits.
Manna Meal serves an average of 410 meals a day - breakfast and lunch - and is open every day of the year.
Simpson said that she sometimes has to ask for more donations when numbers swell, but that she never has to turn people away.
"I asked for cereal not too long ago, I sent out a mass email, and I got overloaded. I've got enough cereal to last about six months," she said.
She said that when people get desperate, soup kitchens are usually the first charity they turn to, and then Manna Meal tries to connect them to other, more comprehensive, services.
"When people go and ask for help, they're asking for just what's needed this second because they're overwhelmed," Simpson said. "The very first thing is, let's feed them so they can get some food in their stomach."