5 Things You Should Know About Unemployment Benefits

An unemployment benefits bill being debated in Congress would offer displaced workers around $1,160 a month, enough to buy about 287 gallons of gas at the current price. The bill, which would extend benefits to workers running out of state-funded aid, was approved by the House of Representatives yesterday, with 49 Republicans breaking ranks to support it. But the measure faces an uncertain future in the Senate, and the White House is vowing to veto it.

Aside from the political posturing, what does the extension really mean for unemployed workers?

Here are five important points you should know about unemployment benefits, based on documents and conversations I had with spokesmen from the House Committee on Ways and Means and the National Employment Law Project.

  1. The bill would provide up to 13 weeks of extended unemployment benefits in every state for workers whose regular unemployment compensation has been exhausted.
  2. States with a three-month average unemployment rate of 6 percent or higher would get 26 weeks of extended benefits, according to a NELP spokesman. As of April 2008, states with unemployment rates of 6 percent or higher are Alaska, California, Washington, D.C., Michigan, and Rhode Island.
  3. The average unemployment benefit is about $290/week, or $1,160 a month; benefits would be extended through March 2009, and paid out of federal unemployment trust funds. 
  4. The Congressional Budget Office estimate says 3.8 million unemployed workers would benefit from the bill. NELP puts the number at 4.1 million, which their spokesman says doesn't account for the approximately 10 percent of eligible unemployed who typically don't collect benefits.
  5. If the bill becomes law, unemployed workers who qualify wouldn't automatically start receiving the funds. The bill would shift unemployment from states to the federal government, and workers would have to apply to get the aid.

My question to you: If the unemployment bill doesn't become law this year, will it affect who you vote for in November?

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