PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - Senate Democrats mustered enough votes on Tuesday afternoon tocut off a Republican filibuster that had blocked Congress fromspending $34 billion to extend unemployment benefits for somejobless Americans.
More than 37,000 of Rhode Island’s 69,300 unemployedresidents were receiving unemployment benefits as of June. (Somejobless workers do not qualify because of eligibilityrestrictions.) Eyewitness News spoke with officials in Rhode Islandand Washington, D.C., to understand what the Senate’s actionwill mean for local people.
Q. How many weeks of unemployment can someone get in Rhode Island?
A. Because of the state’s high unemployment rate –12 percent in June – Rhode Islanders can get up to 99 weeks,or nearly 23 months, of unemployment benefits. However, someindividuals may not be eligible for the full 99 weeks – thatdepends on their work histories.
Q. How much money do people on unemployment receive in Rhode Island?
A. Anywhere from $68 to $551 per week if they don't havedependents, and up to $688 per week with five or moredependents.
Q. What exactly did the Senate vote to do Tuesday?
A. This gets complicated, but the legislation that senatorsvoted on Tuesday will restart the federal Extended UnemploymentCompensation (EUC) program, which provides as many as 53 extraweeks of benefits. Those are in addition to the basic 26 weeks thatis always available, which is known as Unemployment Insurance(UI).
(Technically, senators voted only to end debate on thelegislation; an actual vote on the measure is expected tonight. Ifit passes, then the House of Representatives needs to approve it,which is expected to happen Wednesday. The bill would then go toPresident Obama for his signature.)
The EUC program had expired on June 2 after senators failed tocome to an agreement on extending it. The legislation senatorsvoted on Tuesday would extend the program until Nov. 30. Inaddition, it will make benefits retroactive – meaningeligible unemployed people who have not received benefits sinceJune 2 will now get what they would have received if the EUCprogram had continued uninterrupted.
The legislation will also have the federal government continuepaying the full cost of state Extended Benefits (EB), a thirdunemployment program that provides up to 20 more weeks of aid. Thethree programs together – UI + EUC + EB – can provideup to 99 weeks of unemployment benefits in Rhode Island.
Q. Yikes! Why have they made all this so complicated?
A. As the recession has dragged on and more workers have beenunemployed for long periods of time, Congress has expanded thelength of time that people who are out of work can receivebenefits. It’s a patchwork.
Q. So did a lot of Rhode Islanders lose benefits on June 2?
A. No, because in Rhode Island, the state funds the 20 weeks ofExtended Benefits (EB) even when the federal government does not.So when the EUC program ended, unemployed people who were eligiblegot switched to receiving EB benefits sooner than they would haveotherwise.
However, if the Senate had not voted to restart the EUCprogram, the R.I. Department of Labor and Training says asignificant number of local residents would have started losingbenefits toward the end of the summer once they maxed out under theEB program.
Q. If I have already run out of unemployment benefits, can I get more under this new legislation?
A. Not if you have used the maximum 99 weeks available to RhodeIslanders. Although some members of Congress proposed adding moreweeks of benefits, senators have not voted to do so, so thatremains the limit.
Q. How do I find out if I am eligible under this extension?
A. If you are currently collecting benefits, you probablywon’t need to do anything – you will continue receivingunemployment payments.
If you are not currently collecting but think you may beentitled to benefits because of this, the R.I. Department of Laborand Training will reach out to you over the next two weeks.
However, officials here in Rhode Island will not know who iseligible until they receive further guidance from the U.S.Department of Labor in Washington, which may take a few days andwill not happen until President Obama signs the extension into law.For more information, visitdlt.ri.gov .
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