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Congress to restore unemployment benefits this week

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
July 20, 2010

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote to extend unemployment benefits today, which will be good news to hundreds of local workers whose benefits have run out.


Still, if you’re a jobless worker who hasn’t applied for retraining or help in finding a job, it’s high time you did, said a local official who’s in charge of getting workers back to work.


Benefits started running out June 2. About 64,500 Wisconsin residents have lost their benefits since then, said John Dipko, spokesman for the state Department of Workforce Development.


Dipko said if the bill passed Tuesday is retroactive, then eligible workers will receive checks to make up for benefits they didn’t get while the extension was held up in Congress.


Observers expect the bill will be retroactive and will be extended through November.


Dipko has been telling workers for weeks that they should continue filing their weekly unemployment claims so that benefits could begin flowing smoothly again in the event that Congress passed the extension.


“If the extensions are approved, we will work to get payments out to people as soon as possible,” Dipko said Monday.


The Senate is likely to pass the measure late Tuesday. The House is expected to clear it for the president’s signature as soon as Wednesday.


One effect of the loss of benefits has been a big increase in traffic at the Rock County Job Center, said Bob Borremans, of the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board.


Borremans said the Job Center was visited about 11,500 times in May. That figure jumped to more than 15,000 in June.


“I directly attribute that to people having lost benefits and having to find work as quickly as possible,” Borremans said.


Borremans said many of those people should have come in for help earlier.


Not only unemployment but also education benefits that workers might be eligible for will run out if they’re not used, Borremans said, “and if you don’t get in, you’re going to be left behind.”


Some people are hopeful for a recovery. Others are afraid of going back to school, afraid they won’t be able to compete with younger workers, or won’t be able to handle a computer, Borremans said.


Borremans said the Job Center has services that can help the unemployed overcome the hurdles they might be facing: “Absolutely, we’re ready willing and able to help.”


Nationwide, 2.5 million people have seen their weekly checks interrupted since an earlier extension of the jobless aid program expired June 2.


States are responsible for the first 26 weeks of benefits, but the federal government stepped in last year to fully fund up to 73 additional weeks of benefits under the terms of last year’s economic stimulus bill.


There are now 14.6 million unemployed people in the U.S., and more than 9.2 million of them are collecting some form of jobless insurance, including 4.9 million—more than half—receiving the federal extensions.


The latest extension has been a political football.


U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, who is in a re-election battle, issued a statement Monday, saying the extension is needed so families can buy food, medicine and other necessities.


“Extending unemployment benefits is also one of the most effective things the federal government can do to stimulate the economy, because families immediately spend these benefits in their local communities on everyday goods,” Feingold said.


Most Republicans have opposed the extension. They would vote for the extension, they said, if the $33 billion measure were paid for with savings elsewhere in the federal budget.


As it is, the measure would increase the budget deficit, Republicans charge.


Feingold said in an e-mail he “would prefer that this extension of unemployment benefits be paid for over the long term,” but that the needs of his unemployed constituents and the economic boost he expects are more important.


The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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