By Eileen AJ Connelly -- AP Personal Finance Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — It's a concern for millions of people, including many who take part in the support group for the unemployed that Jeff D. Brown helps run at his Phoenix church.
What do you do when your unemployment benefits run out?
"I've had those discussions with quite a few people," said Brown, who serves as managing director of the group, ACT2009. "It's taking them longer to find positions in this environment, so it's more likely their benefits are going to run out."
Federal statistics showed the unemployment rolls shrank a bit last week for the first time in months. But there was some indication that the decline partly reflected people dropping off because they had exhausted their benefits after being out of work for 26 weeks or more, not because they found jobs.
In fact, government figures show that in the 12 months ending in May, about 49 percent of the people receiving unemployment insurance ran out of benefits before they got new jobs.
Some have been able to extend their checks for 20 to 33 weeks, depending on their states, under emergency provisions authorized by Congress. Statistics show about 2.4 million people fall in that category now. Still, with the national unemployment rate at 9.4 percent, many people use up extended benefits with few job prospects in sight.
There's no easy answer for what to do when that happens.
"If they've run out of their benefits, there's a good likelihood they'd be eligible for benefits for retraining," said Nichole Ossa, an employment and training specialist at WorkSource Thurston County in Tumwater, Wash. But while training programs can help prepare people to switch careers, they can't put food on the table or keep the lights on.
"I can't think of a single program that offers a living stipend," she said. "There's the rub there, because even if you can get support for the costs of training, you've still got to eat."
Ideally, people who lose their jobs will assess their situation long before the money runs out. But at any stage of the unemployment process, there are steps you can take to conserve resources, and some help available if you search for it.