Extension of jobless benefits comes as county unemployment at 7.9 percent

Thursday, July 29, 2010
Case manager Ryan Wichern, left, speaks with Steve Bennett about training opportunities Wednesday at the Missouri Career Center in Cape Girardeau. Bennett is interested in going back to school and studying construction management at Southeast Missouri State University. (Kristin Eberts)

An unemployment benefits extension approved by Congress last week comes at a time when there are few opportunities for local job seekers.

"There are so many people that are out of work, so when there are positions open there are so many applicants that someone's chances of being called back and actually going on an interview are very slim," said Robin Strop, the coordinator of the Missouri Career Center in Cape Girardeau, where workers receiving unemployment benefits are required to report every four weeks.

Cape Girardeau County's unemployment rate was 7.9 percent in June, compared to 9.2 percent statewide, according to the Missouri Economic Information and Research Center.

Each week, between 600 and 700 people visit the center, where they can access resources to help with their job search, Strop said. A series of workshops will be held next month focusing on resumes, interviews and job searches.

Job seekers range from manual laborers to managers, said June O'Dell, president and COO of the Workforce Investment Board in Cape Girardeau, which oversees the career centers in Cape Girardeau, Park Hills, Sikeston, Caruthersville and Kennett.

"You've got all these folks fighting for the few jobs that are available," O'Dell said. "There is no one that is doing mass hiring now. Employers are just not hiring, and if they are, it's one or two people."

The Workforce Investment Board does have funds to help job seekers learn new skills and complete certification programs and funds for businesses to offset training costs when they hire a worker who has been receiving unemployment.

Last week, Congress passed House Resolution 4213, extending unemployment benefits to workers who have been out of a job for long periods of time, including an estimated 50,000 Missourians, according to the Missouri Department of Labor.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, voted to approve the extension of benefits while Republicans Sen. Kit Bond and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson voted against the measure.

"This will help those who are working every day to try to find a job in this economy but are continuing to struggle," McCaskill said.

The previous federal unemployment extension expired in May. Last week's extension runs through Nov. 30.

People who continued to file weekly unemployment claims, even after their benefits expired, will be processed first, said Amy Susan, communications director for the Missouri Department of Labor.

People will be paid retroactively for benefits they did not receive between May and now.

People who stopped filing claims when their benefits expired are still eligible for the extension but must file a new claim, she said.

The extension will not help those who have already received Missouri's maximum amount of unemployment benefits totaling 99 weeks, Susan said.

"We will continue to process claims payments as quickly as we can," Susan said. "We have to look at each claim individually. People have to be looking for work and have to be checking in at the career centers. If they have not been doing that, it could make them ineligible."

The first round of payments was made Tuesday evening. The state is borrowing money from the federal government in order to make the payments, Susan said.

More than 133,000 Missourians currently receive unemployment benefits and the average weekly benefit amount is $255, according to the Department of Labor. The maximum is $320.

mmiller@semissourian.com

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216 N. Fountain St., Cape Girardeau, MO

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