PI Original Josh Kalven Tuesday December 22nd, 2009, 2:26pm

Obama Signs Defense Bill, Extends Unemployment Benefits By Two Months

Yesterday, President Obama signed into law the latest defense appropriations bill, which included a provision extending both unemployment benefits and COBRA coverage by two months. While those on the verge of exhausting their jobless benefits can breath a sigh of relief for ...

Yesterday, President Obama signed into law the latest defense appropriations bill, which included a provision extending both unemployment benefits and COBRA coverage by two months. While those on the verge of exhausting their jobless benefits can breath a sigh of relief for the timebeing, they should also keep an eye on the $154 billion economic aid package (H.R. 2847) -- passed by the House last week -- which would extend unemployment aid and the COBRA subsidy by an additional six months.

Below is a full press release from the Illinois Department of Economic Security explaining the ramifications of the two-month extension:

Congress passed and the President signed into law a two-month extension of unemployment insurance benefits. Without the extension, up to 10,000 Illinois workers each week would have exhausted their unemployment benefits starting January 2, 2010, the Illinois Department of Employment Security said today. The action delays the beginning of program exhaustions until the end of February.

Illinois workers on the verge of exhausting benefits need not contact IDES offices to apply for this extension. Eligibility automatically will be determined. Should there be a question about eligibility, the IDES will contact those claimants directly.

Unemployment insurance is a federal/state program. Each state creates laws to administer the program at its discretion within specific federal parameters. Since 2008, Congress, with the leadership of Presidents Bush and Obama, temporarily authorized additional unemployment assistance to support the unemployed as well as the communities in which they reside. Without this latest extension, the additional benefits would have begun to sunset at the end of December 2009.

Contributions by Illinois businesses are set by state law and fund the first 26 weeks of unemployment insurance. Illinois also has leveraged more than $1.8 billion in federal funds to pay benefits past the initial 26 weeks.

Unemployment insurance was never intended to replace an individual’s income. It always was intended to provide financial assistance to an individual, and as a result, businesses that the individual patronizes, during challenging economic conditions. Benefit amounts are set by state law. The average weekly Illinois benefit payment is about $315. The maximum weekly amount is $534.

The seasonally adjusted national unemployment rate for November is 10 percent. The same November rate for Illinois is 10.9 percent. Unemployment rates have not been at these levels since 1983. The unemployment rate is not the same measurement as those collecting unemployment benefits. The unemployment rate identifies those who are out of work and seeking employment, regardless if they are eligible for unemployment insurance. Workers collecting unemployment benefits are counted separately. Therefore, a person who exhausts unemployment insurance benefits or is ineligible for unemployment insurance would still be reflected in the unemployment rate if they are seeking employment. 

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