AUGUSTA – In a letter to President Bush that echoes concerns raised in other states, Gov. John Baldacci is appealing for an extension to a program that provides an extra 13 weeks of unemployment benefits to workers whose regular jobless benefits have run out.
Baldacci expressed his concerns in a letter to President Bush and is also working with Maine’s congressional delegation to extend Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation benefits, which are set to expire at the end of this month.
Congress adjourned for the year without approving what would have been the fourth extension of the program since March 2002.
Baldacci’s letter calls the program “compassionate … and sound economic policy” and said it “has been vitally important to the unemployed in Maine and to our state’s economy.”
“More of our residents are exhausting their unemployment benefits, and the number of weeks they remain unemployed is higher than last year,” says the letter from Baldacci, a former Democratic congressman.
“While our workers continue to look for employment in a job market that has been slow in recovering, these TEUC benefits have enabled them to pay for rent or mortgages, utilities, health care and prescription drugs, food and other bills,” said the letter.
Maine’s jobless rate in November was 4.9 percent, compared to 4.7 percent during the same month a year earlier. The national unemployment rate in November was 5.9 percent.
In New York, where the unemployment rate has been higher than 7 percent in some counties, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has also called on Congress to extend unemployment benefits as soon as it returns next month.
Clinton sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist urging him to make the unemployment extension the Senate’s first order of business when it returns Jan. 20.
Advocacy groups are petitioning Congress for changes in unemployment laws they say will benefit the long-term jobless in Oregon and Washington.
Advocacy groups in Oregon petitioned Congress last month to take action to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless in the Pacific Northwest, where unemployment rates have been among the nation’s highest in recent months at 7 to 8 percent.
In Maine, Baldacci has told the state Department of Labor to contact jobless workers likely to exhaust unemployment benefits and to provide free, personalized employment services through Maine’s CareerCenters.