Published August 1983 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd A Buffer against Joblessness For thousands of West Virginians and millions of other Americans, unemployment insurance has helped buffer the impact of losing their jobs. Unemployment insurance has meant that jobless families can pay the mortgage or rent, meet energy bills, or simply put food on the table. Unfortunately, however, the program is so complicated and the recession so severe that jobless families are not getting the cushioning Congress intended when it devised the program. In West Virginia, for example, 11,000 jobless workers have exhausted their unemployment insurance since April, which has left many of those workers in serious financial difficulty. The best solution is to get the economy moving again and to get our workers back on their jobs. But until that happens, the unemployment insurance program should be revamped to give the maximum amount of help to those who need it. That is what legislation I recently introduced in the U.S. Senate would do. The current unemployment insurance program provides three tiers of benefits: basic benefits, extended benefits, and federal supplemental benefits. Jobless workers generally receive between 26 and 55 weeks of unemployment insurance, depending on where they live, that state's requirements, and the unemployment rate there. In West Virginia, for instance, unemployed workers can get 28 weeks of basic benefits, 13 weeks of extended benefits, and I4 weeks of supplemental benefits. But while unemployment is above ten percent in 20 states and jurisdictions, red tape in the program makes it possible for only five states, fortunately, West Virginia among them, to qualify for extended benefits. That means that thousands of workers in areas hard-hit by the recession are not receiving the help that they need. Further, the supplemental benefits program must be reauthorized by Congress, risking an interruption or discontinuation of benefits that could be devastating to families that depend on them. My bill, a bi-partisan effort co-sponsored by Sen. John Heinz, R-Pa., would simplify and consolidate the extended and supplemental benefits into one program to provide the greatest help to the jobless in areas suffering most from the recession. Basic benefits, the first tier of the program, would not be affected. We need that major overhaul in the unemployment insurance program, so that people who have to have unemployment insurance know what help is available and how to get it, and so that those who manage the program can do so in an efficient and effective manner.