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RI Faces Loss of Federal Unemployment Benefits

Thursday, July 08, 2010

 

Thousands of Rhode Islanders face the loss of their unemployment benefits if Congress does not act quickly to extend them, labor advocates warned at a protest held in downtown Providence yesterday.

“We’re here today because in the midst of the jobless crisis Rhode Islanders are struggling,” said Kate Brock, lead organizer for Ocean State Action, one of the sponsors of the protest. “We all know what 12.3 percent unemployment looks like. We see it on the streets of Providence, and Central Falls. We see the struggle and desperation on the faces of friends and neighbors.”

An estimated 8,000 Rhode Islanders will lose their federal unemployment benefits by the end of this month if Congress does nothing, according to the National Employment Law Project.

Many of them will be picked up by the Extended Benefit funded by the state, but there are still an estimated 100 Rhode Islanders who are exhausting every possible unemployment benefit every week, according to the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training.

One of them is John Prince, who said he received his last unemployment check on Wednesday. He wasn’t sure what he would do next. “I have no idea,” Prince said. “I’ve been scrambling—trying to keep my bills down with rent, electricity.”

Prince, a Providence resident who had been on unemployment for nearly two years, said applying for labor jobs online had gotten him nowhere. “How do you know it’s even been read?” he said. “It’s been extremely difficult for me.”

How Unemployment Benefits Work

Rhode Islanders are eligible for three unemployment benefits. Regular unemployment insurance, which is federally funded and administered by the state, lasts for 26 weeks.

Once that runs out, those who still can’t find work move onto to federal unemployment benefits—that’s the program that expired in June when the U.S. Senate failed to extend it. The last line of defense is the Extended Benefit program.

In all, Rhode Islanders can receive unemployment benefits in one form or another for 99 weeks, according to Laura Hart, a spokeswoman for the Department of Labor and Training.

Labor activists yesterday urged Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, both Rhode Island Democrats, to round up more support in the Senate for the extension.

“Politicians down in DC are have bailed out Wall Street and left real Americans out in the cold, or I guess the heat today, to fend for themselves,” Brock said. “We applaud Sen. Whitehouse and Reed for their support on this issue but as the Senate continues to stagnate 5,000 Rhode Islanders will lose their unemployment benefits this week. That’s the money that puts food on the table, pays the rent and keeps the lights on.”

In May, an estimated 38,500 Rhode Islanders were receiving an unemployment benefit, according to Hart. Last month, about 15,000 new unemployment claims were filed, while the total number of those on unemployment last month is not yet available.

 

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