27,000 Oregonians lose unemployment insurance pay

SALEM—Approximately 27,000 jobless workers in Oregon lost their unemployment insurance (UI) benefits last week when a state-funded benefits extension expired.

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration, which is sitting on $20 billion in federal UI funds, has declined to support any new extensions of the federal jobless benefits that expired in December.

The 27,000 unemployed Oregonians who lost UI benefits were enrolled in a state-funded program called Temporary Additional Benefits (TAB). The TAB program, which was enacted by the Oregon Legislature last year, was intended to buffer the phase-out of more generous extensions that were approved only through September and December of last year.

But TAB ended Feb. 14 — leaving 27,000 jobless workers out in the cold and canceling $6.7 million in weekly benefits that were paying for food, clothing, housing and other necessities.

“This will be a real hardship for these workers and their families,” said Oregon AFL-CIO President Tim Nesbitt. “These workers are the long-term unemployed, many of whom have exhausted their savings and are living week to week as they look for work, and they now number more than 20 percent of all jobless workers in our state.”

The only hopes for these jobless workers until they find new jobs, the state labor federation said, are:

• The chance that Oregon’s high unemployment rate could trigger a resumption of another state extension called Oregon Additional Benefits (OAB), which would fund benefits for another six-and-a-half weeks. This benefit could trigger on by the first week of March.

• Action by Congress and the Bush Administration to reinstate the federally-funded Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation (TEUC) that expired in December.

During the first week of February, U.S. House Democrats picked up enough support from Republicans to pass an amendment to a budget bill calling for a renewal of the TEUC program for an additional six months. But it did not provide funding for the benefits due to procedural restrictions that apply to budget bills.

The vote of 227-179 included 39 Republicans who voted with the majority, including Oregon Representative Greg Walden who joined his four Democratic colleagues from Oregon — Earl Blumenauer, Darlene Hooley, David Wu and Peter DeFazio — supporting the amendment.

Despite not funding, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) called the vote “a major boost to the effort” to reinstate federally-funded jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed.

“Now, it’s up to President Bush to end the uncertainty by sending a clear message that he wants the congressional leadership to stop blocking the enactment of an extension,” said Maurice Emsellem, NELP’s director of public policy.

Without a change in position by President Bush, however, there could be a standoff between the House and Senate.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who opposes any extension of UI benefits, predicted that the House amendment will not survive a conference committee.

The week of Feb. 9, Washington U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell tried to bring a vote on federal extensions to the floor of the Senate through an amendment to Highway Construction Bill S. 1072.

Her efforts were blocked by the Republican leadership using procedural rules, NELP reported. Under those rules, the Senate can limit the number of amendments that are considered on each bill. With the list already full, Cantwell was unable to offer her amendment for a vote.

Oregon U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith both support proposals for extending UI benefits, the AFL-CIO said.

The Senate is out of session for the President’s Day recess and will return on Feb. 24.

Meantime, the AFL-CIO is urging union members, families and friends to call President Bush and encourage him to support extending unemployment benefits for long-term jobless workers. The phone number is 202-456-1111.

(Editor’s Note: Portions of this report are from the Oregon AFL-CIO Weekly Report and Press Associates Inc.)

Home | About

© Oregon Labor Press Publishing Co. Inc.