America’s unemployed usually have just 26 weeks to pick themselves back up. But Thursday, the U. S. House of Representatives passed a bill extending the time Americans can receive unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 39 weeks. While this bill would be an encouraging start to rejuvenating the national economy, Bush and Congressional Republicans have said that benefit extensions are only necessary when the national unemployment rate is far beyond 5.5 percent. But even by these “conservative” standards, Michigan’s 6.9-percent unemployment rate certainly qualifies. Michigan’s jobless are in dire need of economic relief, and federal level assistance is necessary to fund the benefits extension.

Clif Reeder
Illustration by Harun Buljina

The House bill, which passed 274 to 137 Thursday, grants an additional 13 weeks of benefits to all states and another 13 weeks on top of that to states whose unemployment rates exceed 6 percent. This means that Michigan residents would be promised one full year of $300-per-week benefit checks to aid them during a difficult job hunt. In addition to giving Americans more time to find new jobs, the bill eradicates the current precondition that individuals work at least 20 weeks before receiving any benefit checks.

While Michigan’s unemployment rate has been above 6 percent since late 2001, the need for federal relief nation-wide became particularly pronounced last month when the national unemployment rate jumped from 5 percent in April to 5.5 percent in May. Finally, the spike in the unemployment rate caught the government’s attention. The bill to extend unemployment benefits was first brought to the House last Wednesday, a week after the national increase in unemployment was realized.

Ideally, each state would provide unemployment aid according to its individual economic need. State-based unemployment benefit programs are unlikely to function, however, in states that are already suffering from failing economies and high unemployment rates. Michigan and the other states on the high end of the unemployment rate spectrum need immediate federal attention to bolster their economies.

As hopeful as this may sound for unemployed individuals around the country, Republicans in the Senate and officials at the White House have already announced that they find the bill extremely wasteful. The Bush administration has said that such federal benefit expansion programs should only be implemented when the national unemployment rate significantly exceeds 5.5 percent. This means that suffering states like Michigan, California, Rhode Island and Alaska will not get the funding they need just because the unemployment rate for the rest of the country isn’t high enough.

If the federal bill fails to pass, it falls to the state of Michigan to pass the benefits extension legislation itself and make sure the state’s jobless are helped. With any hope, however, it won’t come to that. The Senate and the President must recognize the needs of the jobless in extreme cases like these and accept this bill as a necessary part of getting the unemployed – and the state economy – back on their feet.

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