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By QUINCY HODGES
Capital News Service
LANSING – Michigan’s unemployment rate is the highest in the country and shows the state is still in deep trouble.
Unemployment benefits eventually dry up, although a new extension of benefits signed by President Barack Obama will offer relief to those who have used up all of theirs.
“My unemployment benefits just ran out, so I’m now in the process of filing for an extension,” said Aaron Powell, a former employee of AT&T U-verse.
Powell worked for AT&T U-verse for two years and was laid off about a year ago due to cutbacks. Powell worked at Sterling Heights and Southfield locations.
He said, “I’ve tried to seek new employment programs, but they are so bombarded with the unemployment rate here in Michigan, by the time they get to you, the jobs have been taken, so I chose to finish school.”
Powell is now taking classes at Henry Ford Community College, with a focus on computer information.
“Rent is somewhat of a struggle. I’m unable to save money and I lost my car,” he said. Powell supported his mother and his girlfriend while working.
Powell had planned to move out of the state but losing his job derailed his plans.
The new federal law adds 20 weeks of benefits to workers who are unable to find jobs, according to the Michigan League for Human Services (MLHS).
The United States employment rate rose to 10.2 percent, which is the highest in 26 years, while Michigan was at 15.1 percent in October.
Unemployed workers can now collect benefits up to 99 weeks.
There are two state Senate bills pending that would allow benefits for people in training programs and those seeking part-time work.
According to the MLHS, “passing those bills would put Michigan into compliance with federal requirements and bring an additional $139 million of federal funds into Michigan to run the unemployment system and expand the number of families and individuals served by the system.”
After unemployment benefits run out, jobless residents can still get food assistance and medical care for their children from the state, said Judy Putnam, communications director of the MLHS.
Putnam said Michigan Helping Hand, in association with the United Way, provides additional help with health care, unemployment benefits, job training, family support and housing. The United Way 2-1-1 program lets people dial 2-1-1 and for help with rent, utilities and food assistance.
The president of the Michigan Association of United Ways Scott Dzurka, said the 2-1-1 program is funded by state and local governments and private donors. He said calls centers have increased 51 percent over the past year and that food assistance is the number-one request.
© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.