Business, Economics and Jobs

Overhauling states' unemployment systems

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released unemployment numbers, which fell slightly in November. But millions of Americans are still either un- or under-employed.

"With one in ten Americans out of work and millions more under-employed, not having enough hours to support themselves, this is a struggle that cuts deep and it touches people across this nation," said President Obama after his job summit in Washington.

Many are making ends meet with unemployment checks. Some of the state unemployment funds paying those checks, however, are going bone dry.

Carl Guzzardi, tax director for the Connecticut labor department, says his state is having to borrow billions of dollars.

"Currently we've got well in access of 100,000 former workers filing for benefits on a weekly basis," said Guzzardi.

The Ford Foundation has pledged $80 million dollars to help many states overhaul their unemployment systems. According to the organization's Director of Quality Employment, Helen Neuborne, the package of grants will address a variety of issues, all aimed at helping low-wage working families acheive economic stability.

One of the larger grants will go toward helping states modernize their unemployment laws, which will enable them to receive federal funds and provide unemployment benefits to more people.

"So what happened is that Congress put $7 billion dollars into this recovery, and that's available to states that modernize their laws," said Newborne. But a lot of states haven't modernized. If their laws are not modernized, very often they're not serving 30 to 40 percent of the people who lose their jobs."

Georgia's Labor Commissioner, Michael Thurmond, says his state is currently working to overhaul its unemployment system.

"Quite frankly, these systems were not necessarily designed to deal with the type of unemployment we're seeing at the state level in Georgia and across this nation," said Thurmond. "That is why we're seeing such a huge impact, not only on the funds themselves, but also on the system throughout the nation."

Guzzardi in Connecticut says his state has been able to receive federal funds, which allowed the state to continue to pay benefits and modernize its existing systems. "Both our telephone systems and our Internet systems for filing claims so that at least the claims process is much more efficient than it was in the past," said Guzzardi.

The Ford Foundation's Newborne says some of her organization's other grants will go towards helping states improve their general government support systems. "Things like food stamps or health care for children ... these benefits will also need to be modernized, and so we'll be working with states to try to change those systems so that the application process is quicker and so that more families able to get benefits."

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