This week Utah joined Maryland and South Dakota to become the third state this year to modernize its unemployment insurance laws and eliminate barriers to coverage, especially for women and low-wage workers. This is the third week in a row that a state has enacted reforms to improve its unemployment insurance laws and we hope this trend keeps up!
Utah’s bill enacts an "alternative base period" (ABP) that gives workers credit for their most recent employment in determining whether they have earned enough to qualify for unemployment insurance benefits. Under the traditional base period, between three to six months of a worker’s most recent earnings may be discarded. By allowing a worker’s most recent wages to be counted, this new reform particularly helps low-wage workers, the majority of whom are women, to qualify for unemployment insurance.
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The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), signed by President Obama last February, provides funds for states that modernize their unemployment insurance laws. Utah’s new law allows it to qualify for $20 million in federal funds which it can use to pay unemployment insurance benefits. If Utah enacts two more reforms—for example, by extending coverage to part-time workers, covering workers who must leave a job for compelling family reasons, providing additional benefits for workers with dependents, or additional weeks of benefits for workers in training programs—it can qualify for $40 million more in federal funds.
Since the enactment of ARRA, thirty states have enacted reforms that qualify them for federal funds and allow jobless workers and families to get the unemployment insurance benefits they deserve! To find out more about where your state stands and how to get involved in reform efforts in your state, please visit http://action.nwlc.org/unemployment. States have until August 2011 to enact qualifying reforms, so even if your state legislature has already adjourned for the year without taking action (shame on you, Virginia, West Virginia, and Indiana!), there’s still time to act.