Oregon lawmakers extend unemployment insurance

SALEM - A bill to extend unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for long-term jobless workers passed the Oregon Legislature this week and was quickly signed by Governor Ted Kulongoski.

Senate Bill 2, sponsored by Senators Peter Courtney, DŒSalem, and Lenn Hannon, R-Ashland, will provide up to 13 weeks of additional UI benefits for more than 20,000 jobless workers who have exhausted all the benefits now available under state and federal programs.

The bill reauthorizes provisions in House Bill 4021, a bill that passed in the first special session of 2002 but was never implemented because the U.S. Congress enacted a federally-funded extension of benefits, overriding those in HB 4021.

This extension of benefits will not cost the state any additional money, as the $29 million cost of SB2 remains unspent in a dedicated unemployment insurance fund. The UI Trust Fund, paid into by state employers, has a balance of $1.6 billion. The money cannot be used for any other purpose except UI benefits.

According to the Employment Department, anyone who exhausted benefits in 2002 would be eligible to receive this extension. The Department estimates that around 18,000 jobless Oregonians would benefit.

Courtney and Hannon helped convince the House Business, Labor and Consumer Affairs Committee to unanimously send the measure to the House floor without the usual stop at the budget structuring House Ways and Means Committee.

"There has been no sign of recovery in the last 10 months," Courtney said. "More than 1,900 people a month are losing their unemployment benefits."

"Many workers survive from unemployment check to unemployment check" while they seek work, said Hannon. The funding in SB2 could "be a make or break difference to a lot of people."

More than a dozen workers, spanning an occupational spectrum from farm workers to software engineers, testified before lawmakers that the additional benefits can mean holding on to their homes and keeping food on the table while continuing their search for new jobs. Joining the workers in support of the bill was the Oregon AFL-CIO, as well as several business associations and religious groups.

Tim Nesbitt, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, said Oregon "is stuck in a jobless recovery" with 157,500 unemployed workers. "Despite the availability of up to 65 weeks of unemployment benefits funded by the state and the federal government, more than 19,000 recipients exhausted their benefits last year, and another 5,000 have exhausted their benefits so far this year," he said.

April 4, 2003 issue

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