Congress urged to extend emergency jobless benefits

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 7, 2009 

WASHINGTON — State labor officials on Monday urged Congress to renew emergency jobless benefits that have been available through economic stimulus funds, but are due to expire this month.

One million workers could lose their benefits in January without the extension, according to a new report on the stimulus act unemployment benefits, written by several labor advocacy groups.

"This is a lifeline," said Jim Garner, the secretary of the Kansas Department of Labor.

Garner was one of eight state labor officials who appeared at a news conference alongside labor advocates. Though last week's economic report showed hopeful signs, "We are facing a real catastrophe," said Christine Owens, the executive director of the National Employment Law Project, one of the co-authors of the report.

Backers of renewing the stimulus act unemployment assistance said it helped families pay for mortgages and other bills and kept money circulating into the economy.

"We stop now, we risk stalling the nascent recovery," said Heather Boushey, an economist with the Center for American Progress, a liberal policy organization and a co-author of the report.

The unemployment rate dropped slightly last week, to 10 percent, but more than 15 million people remain out of work.

Basic unemployment insurance provides up to 26 weeks of benefits at an average rate of about $284 a week.

The stimulus added as much as a year's worth of extended aid, depending upon a state's unemployment rate. It also provided an additional $25 boost in weekly assistance, a health insurance subsidy and a break on federal income taxes. Renewing the programs would cost about $100 billion.

State labor officials and others said they're hopeful that Congress will act. Though the Senate is bogged down on health care, Congress still must pass an omnibus spending bill to fund the government, which could provide a vehicle for the extended benefits renewal, they said.

Without the extension, nearly 20,000 jobless workers in Missouri, for instance, whose basic unemployment benefits run out this month, would enter 2010 without extended assistance, according to the report.

Kansas, however, would be one of a dozen states forced to dip into their coffers to maintain some extended benefits.

That's because they signed onto an optional federal program, separate from the stimulus act, for states with high unemployment where the federal and state governments equally shared the costs of extending unemployment benefits.

Under the stimulus program, though, the federal government paid the entire cost. If that money is no longer available, Kansas would still be obligated to pay its share.

Workers exhausting regular state benefits

State ................ No. of workers

Alabama .............. 15,539

Alaska ............... 0

Arizona .............. 38,417

Arkansas ............. 12,213

California ........... 233,464

Colorado ............. 25,308

Connecticut .......... 0

Delaware ............. 3,928

District of Columbia . 5,794

Florida .............. 117,324

Georgia .............. 52,618

Hawaii ............... 5,125

Idaho ................ 7,563

Illinois ............. 66,217

Indiana .............. 39,685

Iowa ................. 10,716

Kansas ............... 0

Kentucky ............. 13,252

Louisiana ............ 13,330

Maine ................ 4,119

Maryland ............. 18,600

Massachusetts ........ 40,819

Michigan ............. 49,331

Minnesota ............ 0

Mississippi .......... 9,518

Missouri ............. 19,620

Montana .............. 2,591

Nebraska ............. 6,732

Nevada ............... 0

New Hampshire ........ 0

New Jersey ........... 0

New Mexico ........... 0

New York ............. 87,093

North Carolina ....... 0

North Dakota ......... 1,416

Ohio ................. 40,371

Oklahoma ............. 11,257

Oregon ............... 0

Pennsylvania ......... 0

Rhode Island ......... 0

South Carolina ....... 27,223

South Dakota ......... 541

Tennessee ............ 28,115

Texas ................ 86,640

Utah ................. 9,402

Vermont .............. 0

Virginia ............. 24,195

Washington ........... 0

West Virginia ........ 4,289

Wisconsin ............ 29,319

Wyoming .............. 2,645

United States ........ 1,164,330

States with "0" workers listed in the table above have the Extended Benefits program in place, which is funded 50 percent by the states after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act expires

Source: National Employment Law Project

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