June 17, 2008

Jobless Rhode Islanders Need Federal Aid, Whitehouse Says

Senate Bill Offers Rhode Islanders an Extra 26 Weeks of Unemployment Benefits

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) took Senate Republicans to task today for blocking legislation that would extend unemployment insurance benefits for millions of out-of-work Americans, including a former law clerk from Rhode Island who has applied for 65 positions since losing his job in January.

The bill would give extra help to several states with the highest unemployment rates, including Rhode Island, whose unemployment rate now hovers around 6 percent.

“These are difficult, difficult times for many, many families. But for millions of Americans who are looking for a job today, the challenges seem almost insurmountable,” Whitehouse said this morning in a speech on the Senate floor. He also joined Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) at a press conference today highlighting the importance of the bill.

Whitehouse told the story of Brian Perry, an East Providence man struggling to make ends meet while he searches for a new job. “Because he couldn’t afford to pay both his mortgage and his monthly COBRA payments, Brian has been without any health insurance since the end of January,” Whitehouse said. “He says it’s become more and more difficult just to afford groceries, and some nights, he goes to bed hungry. He could go to a food pantry, of course, but he has not – yet – because he thinks there are too many people who are worse off than he is.”

Unemployment insurance supports workers who are laid off, or whose companies go out of business, as they search for a new job. The system is funded largely by payments from employers. While unemployment benefits almost never replace the full amount a worker would have received in a paycheck, the assistance helps families make mortgage or rent payments, or meet other regular living expenses.

The federal unemployment insurance program generally funds 26 weeks of payments for workers, but in today’s worsening economy, many see their benefits run out before they are able to find another job. Last month, the national unemployment rate saw its biggest one-month increase in over 20 years, reaching a four-year high of 5.5 percent. In Rhode Island alone, there are more than 18,000 workers in need of a job whose benefits have already or will soon run out.

The Emergency Extended Unemployment Compensation Act (H.R. 5749) would temporarily extend unemployment benefits 13 weeks beyond the ordinary 26-week eligibility period. In states like Rhode Island, where people have been hardest-hit, eligible jobless workers would receive twice that: up to 26 extra weeks of unemployment insurance. The bill passed the House of Representatives last week by a bipartisan vote of 274 – 137, but this morning, Senate Republican leaders blocked its consideration in the Senate.

“Millions of Americans go out pounding the pavement each and every day, looking for work to support themselves and their families,” Whitehouse said. “The Emergency Extended Unemployment Compensation Act could help over 3 million Americans pay the mortgage or the rent or feed their families as they continue to navigate a perilous job market.”


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