“Modernizing” Unemployment: What the National Press Isn’t Saying

 It’s national news that today there are now new stimulus funds for extended unemployment benefits, tax credits for first-time homebuyers, newer homeowners, and expanded laws providing refunds for drained businesses. What’s not being reported nationally?

H.R. 3548, the Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act of 2009, singled out for its importance to “the men and women hit hardest by the recession” by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was delayed for weeks in the House, during arguments across the aisle over “issues,” as the Washington Post’s Capitol Briefing puts it, “not directly related to the provisions.”

Let’s look at what the national news is not saying: the act contains provisions finally revamping the Unemployment Insurance Modernization language in the this year’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act . . .

Okay, wait. Did you get all that?

If we’re tracking the nation’s economy together, we know Obama signed into law this stimulus package, the Great Recovery Act, in February. A useful tool, for determining where those funds have been spent inyour area, is the Track the Money graph, from the government, which allows the user to literally zoom in and recover data on all grants, loans, and recipients. Mm hmm. Stay on top of who got what near you, and keep them mindful that you do know what is a Community Development Block Grant (find out now, if you don’t), and which constituency that funding is meant to serve . . .

Also, it’s helpful to know which of your community centers had the wherewithal to put together a grant and have it approved in a timely fashion. Next, you’ll want to know whether the grant writers there are putting the funding to the use they’ve claimed and, if they are, you’ve found the right place for services. They’re more forward-thinking than the service providers who are just limping along, paying no mind to what could be happening in the worlds of medical service provision; child care; domestic and sexual violence prevention; social services . . . mm hmm.

Oh, and speaking of domestic and sexual violence—now that we’re all clear about who’s doing what with the national budget—as women, we’ve likely all had some brush with the troublesome nature of the strictures of unemployment. There was a time when, no matter what was happening on the home front, if we or our partners were out of a job, getting back to work was the only option, but quick.

"Modernizing" unemployment insurance benefits has meant fighting a war on Capitol Hill, to cash a reality check: with the passage of this new act, unemployment benefits are not denied, if an employee leaves work, for a “compelling family reason,” including having been the victim of domestic violence or sexual assault.

This is Big News. This is Change.

We’re no longer talking about being fired, in order to qualify for unemployment benefits, no.

A person of either gender—thankfully, the language of the act is not gendered—may now rightfully take leave of work, and retain access to some sort of wage benefits, after a violent assault.


I want a moment of silence, for that.

Too, if your spouse must relocate, and you have to leave your job for that, you will retain wage benefits, under the “compelling family reason” clause. Well, I suspect that applies only to those of you who enjoy the benefits of heterosexual unions, as the feds don’t recognize those of us who are otherwise engaged, but I’m pleased for you, nonetheless, because this is some progress for women.

Keep in mind: this isn’t any help for single parents, either. What is? Unemployment benefits are available to individuals enrolled in job training programs (that hasn’t changed), and to those who are providing at least a $15 weekly stipend for each of their dependents. I’m not entirely clear on the language of this last part; let’s do some research. “Stipend” may be a reference to child support.

The fact is, only 37% of unemployed workers actually collect benefits. That means the majority of the nation’s jobless are not tapping into those resources. Low-wage, part-time, and women workers are less likely to receive unemployment insurance than higher-wage, full-time, male workers.

These incentives are meant to be a path toward changing some of that. No, the major news sources aren’t crowing about it.

I am.

It’s a small step, but it’s change.

I’m about that.



Canela A. Jaramillo


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