The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 31, 2003

Congress goes to work on more unemployment money

By The Building Tradesman

Here comes yet another round in what has become an unending fight to secure additional jobless benefits for laid-off workers.

Both House Democrats and Republicans are looking into approving the extension of unemployment benefits to provide more help to the nation's unemployed. U.S. Rep. Sander Levin (D-Southfield) said on Oct. 20 that Dems have proposed granting an additional 13 weeks of jobless benefits to the 1.4 million unemployed Americans who have exhausted state and federal benefits.

Levin said a bill by Republicans that would extend benefits is inadequate because it doesn't offer any monetary relief to the long-term unemployed who have exhausted unemployment compensation.

"We need to make sure their plight isn't invisible," Levin said.

The Republican bill, introduced by a Washington representative, would renew the 13-weeks of benefits and provide 26 weeks of benefits in five high unemployment states, which includes Michigan. However, the bill doesn't offer additional benefits to workers who have exhausted theirs.

The Democratic bill would add 13-20 weeks of federal help for workers who have exhausted their benefits. Their bill would also extend regular benefits by 26 weeks, with an additional seven weeks provided in 18 high unemployment states.

Michigan has had a 7.4 percent jobless rate for the past three months, the national average is currently at 6.1 percent. As of September, the maximum unemployment benefit in Michigan was 52 weeks, including 26 weeks of federal benefits, 13 weeks of state benefits and 13 weeks paid for by the state and federal governments.

Federal lawmakers must take some action to extend benefits - the existing 13-week window of U.S. benefits ends at the end of December. Since March 2002, Congress has extended unemployment benefits three times.

Since March 2001, the U.S. economy has lost 2.7 million jobs - the longest period of declining jobs during a recession since the Great Depression.