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Extended Unemployment Insurance Stopping Short In Several States

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UNEMPLOYED

Extended unemployment insurance benefits for the long-term jobless are set to expire this month in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Tennessee, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Unless state lawmakers take action, laid off workers in those states will no longer receive benefits under the federal Extended Benefits program as of April 16.

Indiana legislators are working on last-minute legislation to maintain the state's eligibility for EB, which provides up to 20 weeks of federally-funded benefits for long-term jobless who exhaust 26 weeks of state benefits and up to 53 weeks of federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation. The unemployment rate in Indiana is 8.8 percent.

"Since the federal government is picking that expense up it's kind of foolish not to help the unemployed people out in Indiana a little bit," said State Rep. Dan Leonard (R), who said he sponsored legislation that unanimously passed a committee vote Wednesday and should reach the governor's desk next week. Leonard said the state's Department of Workforce Development brought the issue to his attention last week.

"We think it's important to push it through in a quick fashion and get it done," Leonard said.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) declined to comment on whether the governor supports the legislation.

The legislation is necessary because the long-term jobless are eligible for 20 weeks of EB if the job market in their state meets two conditions. First, the state's unemployment rate during the most recent three months must be above 8 percent. Second, the rate must be at least 10 percent higher than it was during the corresponding three month period in either of the two previous years. (If the unemployment rate is above 6.5 percent, then the state is eligible for 13 weeks of EB instead of 20.)

Even though unemployment remains high in most states, rates haven't risen in such a way over the past two years that states can continue to meet the second condition for EB eligibility. That's why Congress, when it reauthorized the federal benefits programs in December, included a provision allowing states to modify their laws so the EB "look back" encompasses the previous three years instead of just two.

"In general, unemployment rates three years ago were low enough to meet the look-back requirements for the EB 'on' indicators," advised a December Labor Department memo to state workforce agencies. The Labor Department publishes a monthly "trigger notice report."

Some advocates for continuing the benefits worry the problem of outdated EB "look back requirements" and "on indicators" is so abstruse that state lawmakers are either unaware or ignorant of the problem.

"Too many misguided and/or uninformed state legislators are either choosing to deny their state's unemployed workers UI benefits they so desperately need, or are simply neglecting to deal with the issue that will come into play after they adjourn," Judy Conti, a lobbyist for the National Employment Law Project, wrote in an email. "There is an easy legislative fix for all of this, the money has been appropriated, and it is of the utmost importance to very vulnerable citizens in their states."

Lawmakers and governors' offices in Wisconsin, Tennessee, and North Carolina either had no comment or did not respond to requests for comment from HuffPost.

California, Colorado, and Michigan have changed their laws to maintain eligibility for the benefits, according to the Labor Department. (Though Michigan curtailed future state benefits at the same time it changed its EB trigger.)

In Missouri, a Republican state senator who filibustered a bill that would maintain the state's eligibility for EB relented on Tuesday, deciding to focus his anti-spending efforts on federal stimulus measures instead of federal unemployment benefits.

The National Employment Law Project expects Alaska, Alabama, Kentucky, and Virginia to trigger off EB benefits after the Labor Department releases state unemployment rates later this month.

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