Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Congress Moves to Extend Unemployment Insurance to Hard-Hit States

September 22nd, 2009 | Mike Hall

There are six jobless workers for every job that is open. The official unemployment rate stands at 9.7 percent and is expected to top 10 percent in the coming months. By the end of this month, some 400,000 workers will run out of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits—another 1 million by the end of the year.

Tomorrow, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to throw a lifeline to many workers due to exhaust their UI benefits before finding new work. Legislation to provide an additional 13 weeks of benefits to workers in high unemployment states is likely to win approval, and the Senate could take it up later this week.

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), who introduced the bill (H.R. 3548), says the added weeks of benefits will help hundreds of thousands of Americans who lost their jobs through no fault of their own in this so-called Great Recession.

The bill will cover workers in the 27 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico where the jobless rates are 8.5 percent or higher. Beth Shulman, chairwoman of the National Employment Law Project’s (NELP’s) board of directors, says the bill is “a good first step” but problem of long-term joblessness impacts workers in every state who need and should receive additional assistance.

Every state has experienced record increases in unemployment rates and unemployment claims over the course of the recession, and in every state, long-term jobless workers will be exhausting all benefits by the end of the year without being able to find work.

This past summer, McDermott introduced a bill to provide extended benefits to jobless workers in all states. But because expected opposition from Republican leaders would have delayed or even derailed the bill, he decided to move a scaled down version “in order to respond to the urgent needs of Americans who were about to run out of benefits.”

Some three-quarters of the long-term jobless live in the states covered by the bill. If the jobless rates in the remaining states hit the 8.5 percent threshold, workers there also will qualify for the extension.

The bill provides extended benefits to workers in Alabama, Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. I came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When my collar was still blue, I carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. I’ve also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen me at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. I was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still have the shirts, lost the hair.

This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on September 21, 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.

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