By State Representative Leon D. Young
Last month, a state advisory council offered a unanimous recommendation (9-0) to endorse legislation to make available $89 million in federally funded jobless benefits for more than 10,000 unemployed workers in the state. The federal money would extend benefits for workers who qualify by 13 weeks, providing a total of 86 weeks of coverage.
This week the Legislature, responding to the mounting public anger/frustration over the delay in extending benefits, finally got in the act. In an obvious attempt to facilitate the process, the respective Senate and Assembly labor committees held joint public hearings and executive sessions and voted 8-1 to extend unemployment insurance benefits.
Under provisions contained in the two companion bills (Senate Bill 147 and Assembly Bill 197) benefits can be paid retroactively, if and when the Legislature and the governor sign off on the legislation. The current benefits total up to $363 a week, or about $9 an hour for a full-time job.
Republicans and business groups had initially opposed approving the benefit extension, saying that they worried that doing so would leave workers with enough income that they could decline potential job offers. Republicans also expressed concerns that extending the benefits could be viewed as “an entitlement” by some unemployed workers. But nothing could be farther from the truth. During gutwrenching public testimony before the joint committees, a litany of unemployed workers provided graphic, antidotal insights into their plight. One woman had lost her home; another couldn’t afford to buy food or prescription medication for her chronic medical condition; while yet another woman needed the money to attend school, in order to be retrained for possible employment in a different field of endeavor.
This $89 million in federal extended benefits became available to the state back in April. But, for whatever reason(s), the state has been criminally remiss in extending these much-needed benefits to 10,000 unemployed workers in distress. How far does $363 a week go? Clearly, not far enough! It’s ludicrous to think that a jobless worker would turn down a job and opt for an unemployment check instead.
This is a no-brainer. This legislation should be passed and enacted with all deliberate speed. After all, the state has been dragging its feet for the past 4 months.