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Feb 5 / Elizabeth DiNovella

It’s Time to Extend Unemployment Insurance

Millions of people will lose unemployment benefits in the coming months unless Congress takes action. Now’s the time to extend the social safety net programs in the stimulus package.

Here in Wisconsin, the first state to enact unemployment insurance, the headlines blare that more than 100,000 Wisconsinites could lose their unemployment benefits by the end of April.

Wisconsin legislators are contacting members of its congressional delegation and sent a letter to Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, asking for a reauthorization of critical benefits in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

“Without this extension, 104,000 Wisconsinites will lose their benefits by the end of April, 2010,” reads the letter. “The job market has not rebounded.”

While state legislators write to Congress, the state’s Department of Workforce Development is sending out letters notifying people their unemployment benefits will end within several weeks.

2009 was a tough year for Wisconsin. Places like Janesville have been hard hit by the downturn in the automotive industry. The state has lost about 163,000 jobs during the past year. Wisconsin’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is just under 9 percent, which is below the national rate but far higher than the state rate of 5.9 percent from a year ago.

But those numbers do not portray how bad it is. In 2005, The Progressive published a story called “The Stealth Depression in Black America.” Among African American men, Milwaukee’s jobless rate stood at 59 percent. And that was before the recession started.

Like other states, Wisconsin’s unemployment fund is in crisis. Wisconsin will have to deal with a projected deficit of about $2.8 billion by the end of 2011.

Wisconsin isn’t the only state facing depleted funds as this so-called jobless recovery continues. A new National Employment Law Project report finds that without congressional action, nearly 5 million jobless workers will lose benefits by June.

Congress needs to act now and extend these benefits.

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