Unemployment aid tops AFL-CIO agenda

Wednesday, January 23rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma's jobless workforce has doubled in a year, leaving thousands in dire straits because of the state's outdated unemployment insurance program, state AFL-CIO president Jimmy C. Curry said Wednesday.

Improving unemployment benefits tops the AFL-CIO's legislative agenda for 2002, Curry said at a news conference.

He said thousands of workers currently out of a job ``end up choosing between paying their mortgages, their families' health care or paying to put food on the table.''

Curry said that with a few law changes to help jobless workers, lawmakers can improve the economy without penalizing taxpayers.

Every dollar paid in unemployment benefits generates $2.15 in gross domestic product, he said.

In Oklahoma, however, many unemployed workers cannot collect unemployment insurance because of ``outdated'' eligibility rules, Curry said.

He said the AFL-CIO, working with leaders of faith groups and community organizations, will work to extend the period unemployment benefits are paid and to expand eligibility rules to cover some workers who do not now quality.

Curry wants to increase by 13 weeks the maximum 26 weeks of unemployment benefits paid in Oklahoma.

He said the state has more than $500 million in an unemployment trust fund to pay for the increased benefits.

Oklahoma's unemployment rate rose from 2.8 percent from December of 2000 to 4.5 percent in December of last year.

The AFL-CIO agenda also calls on the state to use is bulk purchasing power to lower costs of the Medicaid program by buying drugs at discounts from manufacturers.

Similar programs have saved other states tens of millions of dollars, with the cost savings passed onto the uninsured, Medicaid recipients and seniors on Medicare, Curry said.