MAHONING VALLEY Benefits extension has unintended negative effect
One official said state employees are working overtime to get the benefit extensions processed quickly.
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- President Bush meant to create a safety net for jobless workers with his federally funded 13-week extension of unemployment benefits. Ironically, the move is causing financial woes for some laid-off Mahoning Valley workers.
Hundreds of unemployed local workers, including many left jobless by the closing of bankrupt steelmaker CSC Ltd. in Warren, had been receiving federal Trade Adjustment Assistance checks because their job losses were related to competition from imports.
Those TAA payments were temporarily suspended March 9, the day Gov. Bob Taft agreed to provide the 13-week jobless benefit in Ohio.
The problem is that TAA benefits don't kick in until a worker's jobless benefits are used up, said Jon Allen, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services in Columbus. The TAA payments will resume, he said, but not until the workers' 13-week extension is exhausted.
Allen acknowledged that some workers who were relying on the TAA as their main source of income may be suffering financially while they wait for their unemployment benefit extension to be approved.
"We understand the situation people are in, but the law requires that the TAA be suspended if the person's unemployment benefits are not exhausted," he explained.
He said Ohio was one of the first states to begin sending out applications for the extension because officials planned ahead, lining up 60 temporary employees in Columbus to handle the paperwork.
More recently, employees at the department's Youngstown and Marietta offices were also assigned to process the extended benefit claims.
"We are working overtime during the week and weekends to process these claims and are making every effort to complete the initial processing of extended benefit claims by the end of next week," he said.
So far Ohio has mailed out about 300,000 applications to jobless workers who might qualify for the 13-week extension. Workers who qualified for a new unemployment claim on or after March 19, 2000, could be eligible.
Allen said about 45,000 applications have been returned, benefit extensions have been approved for 33,327, and 70,000 checks worth $22 million have been issued.
Unemployed workers who have not received an application for the 13-week benefit extension and who think they may qualify can call (877) OHIO-JOB to request an application.
State job officials know of 1,276 TAA claimants statewide whose benefits have been suspended, but Allen did not have a breakdown on how many of those workers live in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.
He said jobless workers laid off from Youngstown Sinter Co., LTV Steel's Warren Coke Plant, CSC Ltd. and American Steel Foundry in Columbiana County could have been eligible to receive TAA.
The Trade Adjustment Assistance program was established under the Trade Act of 1974 to help workers whose employment has been adversely affected by increased imports.
It helps to fund up to two years of retraining for employees who qualify and provides up to two six-month extensions of employment benefits for workers enrolled in approved training programs.