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Thousands lose unemployment benefits

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Extended unemployment benefits for about 8,500 Minnesotans expired Saturday.

Congress opted not to vote on an extension before the holiday break. Nationally, that leaves 1.3 million people cut off from the program, which was put in place during the recession.

In Minnesota, people who had received unemployment benefits from the state for 26 weeks were eligible for an additional 14 weeks of federal benefits.

The expiration of federal benefits doesn't hit Minnesota as hard as some states, said Rick Caligiuri, who heads Minnesota's unemployment insurance program.

"As far as the economy goes and unemployment, it's a very mixed bag across the nation," he said. "Minnesota has been strong in its recovery, and quicker into its recovery from the Great Recession than other states."

Minnesota's unemployment rate is about 4.6 percent. Workers in states with high unemployment rates were eligible for longer-term federal jobless benefits.

The expiration of benefits shouldn't catch people by surprise, said Caligiuri.

"We started this whole process last summer, just getting up in front of this and letting Minnesotans know that this may happen. And then we actually started direct mailing to those folks and even to the folks who were about to expire the standard unemployment and exhaust those benefits. We started mailing a month and a half ago."