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Extended benefits aid 7,000 isle jobless


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POSTED: Thursday, December 24, 2009

At least 7,000 jobless Hawaii residents got an early Christmas gift from Uncle Sam this week through a bill that extended their unemployment benefits.

Provisions to help people who lost jobs this year were included in the $626 billion defense bill that President Barack Obama signed into law Saturday. Besides extending eligibility for federally funded unemployment compensation, the bill lengthened the time the federal government will pay part of the cost of COBRA health care coverage for jobless people.

Ryan Markham of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations said between 7,000 and 8,000 unemployment check recipients will benefit from the bill, which extended a Dec. 31 deadline to Feb. 28.

The state pays 26 weeks of unemployment benefits from the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund financed by employer contributions. After that runs out, a jobless worker may qualify for aid under the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.

In past bills, Congress provided federal aid for a total of 33 weeks, and in November Obama signed a law that gave an additional 14 weeks of federally funded unemployment compensation to people who meet the qualifications.

Past law set Dec. 31 as the deadline for applications for extended federal benefits. Recipients could not apply for another tier of benefits until they exhausted their current level.

“;It could mean that a worker laid off a week earlier would be eligible for additional weeks of benefits,”; Markham said. “;But a person who didn't exhaust Tier 1 benefits before Dec. 31 would not qualify for Tier 2 or Tier 3.”;

Hawaii's unemployment rate was at 7 percent this month, down from 7.1 percent in October.

About 34,000 people filed claims for unemployment compensation this month. That included 20,300 people applying for the state program of 26 weeks' pay and 13,700 claimants for federally funded compensation, according to Department of Labor and Industrial Relations data.