D.C. Council Approves Emergency Extension of Unemployment Benefits

By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 2, 2009

The D.C. Council approved emergency legislation Friday that extends unemployment benefits for thousands of residents whose claims were about to expire.

The council enacted emergency legislation from Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who said the five-month extension will help "alleviate some of the burden felt by many households." Fenty said the legislation will also provide training for "high-demand" jobs.

Unemployment benefits typically last 26 weeks. The extension, which Fenty said will take effect immediately, is for 20 weeks.

The benefits of about 5,000 people would have expired had the legislation not passed, according to the D.C. Department of Employment Services.

The District's unemployment rate is 10.9 percent and climbing; the national rate is 9.7 percent. The city's rate is expected to surpass 11 percent by December, about the time the extension will expire.

With the passage of the legislation, the District became eligible to receive $18 million in federal stimulus funding for "green job" training in fields including construction, solar panel installation and weatherization.

"While our economy is struggling, we are putting plans into action that will help District residents suffering during this economic downturn," Fenty said. D.C. residents will also have "an opportunity to sharpen their skills, learn a new trade or go back to school, through Pell Grants, as they prepare to reenter the job market."

The District's extension followed similar action by several states. About 3.1 million people became eligible for extended benefits, according to the National Employment Law Project, based in New York. The extra benefits in the District are being funded by the city's unemployment insurance trust fund, which uses federal money.

The District has been hard hit by the economic downturn because so many of its residents lack the education and training to compete for mid-skill jobs in construction, maintenance and other professions that pay a livable wage.

According to the latest data from the Census Bureau, about 200,000 adults living in the District, where 51 percent of residents are older than 25, lack a postsecondary degree. A report released by the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program noted that about a third of jobs in the city are available to workers with a postsecondary degree but that often "District residents do not meet this threshold."

D.C. Employment Services Director Joseph P. Walsh Jr. said the mayor's legislation confronts that problem. "There are two very important parts of this reform effort: additional benefits for those who are searching for work in this tough economic time, and education and training opportunities for those who are unemployed," he said.

"We want to help those who are struggling right now and provide opportunities for all to get the training and education they need to find a job more quickly and earn higher wages."

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