Congresswoman Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., has introduced legislation that would provide additional assistance for workers who have exhausted their unemployment insurance and are living in states like Nevada with elevated unemployment rates.

Berkley introduced the legislation last week to add a Tier 5 of benefits to help those who have exhausted their benefits. Congress recently passed an unemployment extension through the end of November before leaving for its August recess (see Congress Sends Unemployment Extension to White House). However, the prospects for the bill are uncertain as Republicans have increasingly opposed an unemployment benefits extension amid increasing worries about the federal budget deficit.

Berkley's legislation, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act, would create an additional tier of benefits for those who have exhausted their unemployment insurance. The bill would provide 20 weeks of additional unemployment insurance for Nevada and other states with an unemployment rate of 10 percent or higher. This tier would benefit individuals who have already exhausted all of their benefits, as well as those who are finding themselves near the end of their final tier without the prospect of employment.

So far, despite the various extensions, those who have been out of work for 99 weeks or longer, known as the “99ers,” have been unable to qualify for extended benefits, even in states with the most generous benefits. Berkley’s legislation would enable them to receive the benefits.

“Nevada remains at the top of the list when it comes to our unemployment rate and families are exhausting their existing benefits with no hope of finding work,” Berkley said in a statement. “Those who reach the existing maximum, which can be up to 99 weeks, are being left without any means to provide for themselves or their families and they need our help desperately. I see the concern in the eyes of the Nevadans I speak with when I am home, I hear it in the voices of those who call and I read about this need, and the families affected, in the letters and e-mails my office receives on a near daily basis.  These are our neighbors, our friends, our former co-workers, who are becoming desperate and they truly need this additional helping hand at a time when Nevada's unemployment rate tops 14 percent.”

The legislation will be referred to the House Ways and Means Committee, on which Berkley serves as a member. The bill’s co-sponsors include Reps. Jim McDermott, D-Wash.; Barney Frank, D-Mass.; John Lewis, D-Ga.; Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.; Laura Richardson, D-Calif.; Phil Hare, D-Ill.; Diane Watson, D-Calif.; Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich.; Dale Kildee, D-Mich.; Mike Doyle, D-Pa.; Linda Sanchez, D-Calif.; and Bob Filner, D-Calif..

Berkley’s bill contrasts with another piece of legislation introduced earlier this month by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. Stabenow’s bill combines an unemployment benefits extension for 99ers with an extension of tax breaks in the HIRE Act that would encourage employers to hire new workers who have been out of work for long periods of time (see Senate Bill Would Extend Unemployment Benefits and HIRE Act Tax Breaks).

Stabenow’s Americans Want to Work Act would create a Tier 5 of benefits that would provide 20 additional weeks of unemployment insurance for individuals in states like Michigan with an unemployment rate of 7.5 percent or higher. Her bill would also extend the HIRE Act tax credit through the end of 2011 and double tax credit to $2,000 if businesses hire workers who have totally exhausted their unemployment benefits.
Congress returns from its August recess in mid-September.

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