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Nine states don't give maximum unemployment benefits: Does yours?

Extended unemployment benefits – after the first 26 weeks – are paid by Uncle Sam, but only if states pass legislation allowing it. So far, 37 states and D.C. are on board, four have unemployment levels too low to qualify, and nine just haven't taken action.

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In addition, four states have had low unemployment for an extended period, so are not eligible for extended benefits: North Dakota (3.8 percent unemployment rate), Nebraska (4.4 percent), South Dakota (4.6 percent), and Hawaii (6.4 percent).

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These four states have not adopted legislation that would trigger federal benefits if their unemployment were to rise to the threshold.

Some states may not have acted because, in the past, Congress extended the benefits for only short periods of time, says Mr. Wentworth. States "would run the risk of having to shut the program down shortly after starting it up,” he says.

Other state governors may have philosophical objections to supporting legislation adding benefits. For example, in Wyoming, where the legislature would help some 5,689 unemployed residents, Gov. Matt Mead (R) is “actively” watching the pending legislation for "the long term impact to employers who fund our unemployment insurance system,” says Renny MacKay, a spokesman for the governor.

In regular unemployment benefits, which last 26 weeks in all states, the costs are split 50-50 between the state and federal government. Private employers pay into the state’s system to fund it.

However, as Wentworth notes, the extended benefits program costs little to the state or its employers. “It is totally funded by the federal government – except for former employees of state and local governments. The states and municipalities have to pay dollar for dollar for [state employees'] extended benefits,” he says.

Maryland, one of the nine states that has yet to pass legislation, is working with the US Department of Labor to find out what legislation it needs to pass to qualify for the funds. says Shaun Adamec, press secretary for Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).

“We’re just at the beginning of our session (which runs from January to April), and this may well be a part of our legislation this year,” says Mr. Adamec. “We just need to finalize with DOL to make sure we know what needs to be in it.”

If the state does act, it would provide an estimated $182.6 million to 47,393 Maryland residents, who would receive an additional thirteen weeks of benefits, according to the NELP.

One resident who would qualify is Lisa Banks of Germantown, who was laid off from her job as an office manager in May 2009. She lost her unemployment benefits at the end of October.

Ms. Banks says she desperately needs the money.

“It would help me avoid losing my car, it would let me keep my electric on so I can keep taking classes on my computer, it would allow me to buy food,” says Banks, who says she has lost 35 pounds because she can’t afford groceries. “The unemployment checks at least allowed me to get the basic necessities. I don’t even have $2 in my pocket.”


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